Martin Sheen's character in the iconic Vietnam war movie Apocalypse Now had this gem of a line: “I wanted a mission and for my sins they gave me one.'' The recently-christened Minister for Rural Affairs, Mr Jairam Ramesh, could spout a very similar line for having to draft the new Land Acquisition Bill.
But, then, he is used to making choices which annoy either the environmentalists, industrialists or his own government.
Here's a gist of the new Bill. People or firms planning to acquire rural or urban land will have to shell out four times or twice as much as the ruling ‘market' prices.
Plus, the Bill throws in provisions like paying the ‘sellers' a monthly amount for 20 years or a single payment of Rs 5 lakh or giving them a job. Restricting the acquisition of multi-cropped land and giving ‘sellers' a share in the appreciation of land are some clauses which have led observers to call the bill ‘anti-development'.
The Bill, however, comes as no surprise to observers of Ramesh who once said that “India needs to be liberated both from the ‘high GDP growth hedgehogs' and the ‘conservation at all-costs hedgehogs'.
The hedgehog view (sticking to one big idea) is unresponsive and inattentive to the untidiness and complexity of real life.”
For those who saw him being shunted to the Rural Affairs Ministry as a fallout of stepping on too many toes, the Land Acquisition Bill is a rather painful reminder that the man's agenda remains unchanged and the new position is actually a political promotion.
But a man who can publicly say that “If there is a Nobel prize for dirt and filth, India will win it, no doubt” must have his heart in the right place.
Jairam Ramesh has a CV to kill for.
He studied engineering at IIT Bombay, after which he moved on to greener pastures and studied public policy at Carnegie Mellon and then at MIT.
At the Planning Commission and other government agencies, he tinkered with the ‘hows' and ‘whys' of what they do.
Then he landed the job of heading the Environment Ministry which made him the poster boy for all that is green (a point of debate among ardent environmentalists who argue he could have done more).
His rallying causes included promoting indigenous climate change research, protecting tigers and scrutinizing projects pitched by Posco, Vedanta and other prominent corporate players.
His closing salvo was putting coal miners in the dock to protect forests, by classifying some coal-rich areas as no-go zones.