New Delhi: In the backdrop of NDA allies and RSS affiliates joining the Opposition in red-flagging some provisions of the contentious land bill, Government today said it is ready to consider suggestions on "any clause" but insisted that changes were brought in the previous legislation at the demand of a number of Congress-ruled states.
Rural Development Minister Chaudhary Birender Singh sought to downplay the opposition to the bill, saying "any organisation be it related to our party or others are not saying that the 2013 law is the ultimate.
"This is not their contention. They are saying that we have also some suggestions in the interest of farmers. They should be incorporated."
Singh, who was in Congress when the 2013 land law was passed, alleged the UPA government had brought the legislation a few months before Lok Sabha elections to "garner votes".
"If any suggestion comes in relation to any clause, we are ready to consider it in farmers' interest.... There is no such rigidity on our part that we are not willing accept if there is anything good," Singh said when asked about the demands to restore consent clause and Social Impact Assessment
Singh's remarks came in the backdrop of at least three NDA allies and four RSS affiliated organisations voicing concern over removal of consent clause and social impact assessment (SIA) provisions from the bill.
The contentious bill, which proposes amendments to Land Acquisition Act of 2013, is under examination of a Joint Committee of Parliament which is about to conclude its consultation process and consider it clause-by-clause next week.
While Shiv Sena, the second largest constituent of NDA after BJP, has, for quite some time, been on record seeking incorporation of a clause providing for 70 per cent consent of farmers in the bill, Shiromani Akali Dal and Swabhimani Paksha have written to the panel headed by S S Ahluwalia that "not an inch" of land should be acquired without the consent of farmers.
The affiliates of RSS including Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, Bhartiya Kisan Sangh, Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh and Akhil Bhartiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram have already opposed the bill and demanded restoration of the consent clause and social impact assessment.
Singh said that if the suggestions are good and in the interest of farmers, the government has no problem in accepting them.
"But right now the issue is before the Committee. Once the committee gives its report, then we will see and if good suggestions come in the interest of the farmers, we are ready to accept it. Earlier also I had said this. Even the Prime Minister had said so," he said.
Singh said that some parties are saying that there should be nothing more or less than the 2013 bill, which does not work.
"In a Parliamentary democracy, communication is required. What is correct should be accepted. Government as well as Opposition should accept it."
When pointed out that most of the representations before the Joint Committee of Parliament have opposed the bill, Singh said that it is natural that some people will speak in its favour and some against it.
"I am hopeful that some consensus will be arrived among political parties in the report of the Joint Committee," he said even as indications have emerged that there may not be a common ground on the issue with both Government and Opposition sides sticking to their respective positions.
Replying to questions, Singh said that change in the land bill was needed because the 2013 law was enacted to "garner" votes.
"It was done in September 2013 keeping an eye on votes for March 2014 elections. But farmers did not go with the party, which had lost its credibility. Their number came down from 206 to 44 in Lok Sabha.
"Now they are again trying to woo that constituency because 62 per cent population of the country is connected with farmers. They think they can connect with them by making noise about it," the minister said.
He said that in a meeting on June 27 last year, state revenue ministers, revenue secretaries, chief secretaries said in one voice that if changes are not made in the land law of 2013, then the acquisition of land is not possible.
Singh claimed that many states had said that they were facing great difficulties in land acquisition due to the 2013 law and that no government will be able to acquire land if Social Impact Assessment remains in the Act.
"Congress-ruled states (at that time) had said that land cannot be acquired with consent clause provision so change it.
These included Maharashtra, Kerala, Haryana and many other Congress-ruled states.
"It was their suggestion that the under the present law, the process of land acquisitions becomes very slow and the SIA delays the process. Now the same parties after losing elections in states began championing the cause of farmers. Blowing hot and cold on every issue cannot go on," Singh said.