Congress slams land ordinance, calls it ‘terror’ against farmers

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Times of India, December 31, 2014

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh on Tuesday said Modi government’s “diluted” land acquisition law would open the doors to forcible take-over of excess land from farmers, diversion of acquired land to private parties and acquisition of multi-cropped land ? reasons that forced the massive amendments to the 1894 law during the UPA regime.

“This (ordinance) is 1894 land law with higher rates of compensation and R&R package,” the former rural development minister told TOI, slamming the government for turning the clock back to an exploitative land regime through the ‘anti-democratic route’ of ordinance instead of holding discussions with political parties.

He said UPA amended the 1894 law after elaborate consultations with senior BJP leaders like Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and Ravishankar Prasad, and accepting changes suggested by the then opposition outfit.

Ramesh said the Modi government’s decision to do away with the “consent clause” and social impact assessment (SIA) would re-equip governments with powers of the junked 119-year old law that allowed rampant forcible acquisition. Denying that the UPA law had hit growth by putting roadblocks in acquisition, he asked, “If there is a problem, why cannot the private parties buy land from farmers? Why return to forcible acquisition?”

The former minister lamented that doing away with filters ? nod of 70%-80% landowners and SIA to determine quantum of real estate required for a project – would turn the system rapacious. “It reopens the door for forcible acquisition, getting excess land and also diverting the acquired land to private players,” he said.

Congress whip in Lok Sabha Deepender Hooda called the wholesale junking of “consent clause” as “anti-farmer”.

Calling the ordinance a blow to farmers, Ramesh said the government had returned to the old, despised acquisition regime just to change the popular narrative dominated by religious conversions. “The government was on the defensive on “ghar wapsi”. This is a gharwapsi of different kind – back to 1894,” he said.

Noting that BJP will go for joint session of Parliament to pass the land ordinance because it lacks majority in the Rajya Sabha, Ramesh said, “The last time they called a joint session was for POTA (terror law) and now for land acquisition. Both smack of terror, this time a law for promotion of terror against farmers.”

Having interacted with NDA’s rural development ministers ? Gopinath Munde who died in an accident and incumbent Birender Singh ? Ramesh pointed to the pressure from government leadership to dilute the land law. “Had Munde been there, the law would have not have been changed. He had told me publicly that BJP had helped pass the UPA’s law. Even Birender cannot be happy as a farmer leader,” he claimed.

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