Congress is back at Bhatta Parsaul

AM Jigeesh New Delhi | Updated on January 24, 2018

Party launches protests to fight ordinance on Land Act and take on Modi government

The Congress is all set to oppose the Land Acquisition ordinance in Parliament when it is taken up for discussion during the upcoming Budget session. The party’s decision to launch nationwide protests against the Centre on the ordinance was formed after a series of meetings of a four-member ‘shadow group’ on social issues headed by the deputy leader of the party in the Rajya Sabha, Anand Sharma.

Initially, the group had taken a view that amendments to the Act will be necessary in view of the large-scale land acquisition required for building a new capital in Andhra Pradesh.

The view, a source in the Congress Working Committee (CWC) told BusinessLine, was rejected by party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who asked the group to take more presentations on the issue from various stakeholders. After several meetings, the group decided to tell the leadership that the ordinance must be opposed in both the Houses of Parliament.

Former Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, a member of the shadow group, was of the view that the Act will not be a hindrance to such large-scale acquisition and the present amendments will bring the law back to the form of the Land Acquisition Act of 1894.

Ramesh inaugurated a series of protests by the Congress on Wednesday in Bhatta Parsaul, a village in Greater Noida.

It was in Bhatta Parsaul that Rahul, in 2011, had started the party’s protests against farm land acquisition, leading to the enactment of the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, many of whose measures have now been repealed by the ordinance.

An internal note, prepared by Ramesh and circulated at the CWC meeting here on Tuesday, opposes the five key amendments carried out by the Centre to the Act. On the insertion of section 10A to create a special category of projects that are exempted from the consent requirements, the note said that since most acquisitions fall in the special category — such as social infrastructure projects — the exemptions will “completely nullify” the safeguards contained in the 2013 law.

On the amendment to section 24(2) to exclude the time spent for litigation and on the change in the definition of ‘compensation paid’, the note said: “Both these amendments will disqualify a majority of beneficiaries and are only designed to serve the interests of the State and its land banks.”

Little accountability

On the new provision, that the defaulting civil servants will be prosecuted only after sanction, it said: “Now officers can proceed to implement the law without any provision for their accountability.”

On the change in the provision for return of unutilised land, the note added: “The impact of this will be that the acquirer can specify an extremely lengthy and generous period for the completion of any project without any accountability. This in effect nullifies the clause.”

On the decision to extend the time, which gives special powers to the Centre in implementing the Act, the former Minister’s note said: “This allows the government sweeping residual powers to take any action necessary to support their interpretation of the Act. This is again a violation of the spirit of the Act, which focused on empowering the common man and not the State machinery.”

Published on January 14, 2015

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