New Delhi: Government on Tuesday expressed readiness to accept recommendations of the Parliamentary panel on land bill, which restored provisions of the UPA law, insisting that it was not a climbdown as it was always open to changes on which there is consensus.
Rural Development Minister Birender Singh said the government has from the very beginning maintained that it has no objection in accepting good suggestions from any institution, political leader, political party or farmers.
"We, too, must consider the issues on which there has been a consensus because a Joint Parliamentary Committee is after all considered a mini Parliament. If there are dissent notes, we will examine what are the suggestions," Singh told reporters at a press conference here.
"What will be our stand will be known only after August 7. It all depends on what report the Joint Committee gives and whether whether there has been a consensus in the report of the joint committee or dissent notes were given," he said after launch of two compilations of his ministry "Panchayat Darpan" and "Samanvay" here.
Singhs'remarks came a day after the Joint Committee of Parliament headed by BJP MP S S Ahluwalia approved changes in the Modi government's bill including on the consent clause, that will restore the UPA law.
The way for possible climb down by the government was facilitated by all 11 BJP members moving amendments in the Joint Committee of Parliament seeking to bring back key provisions of UPA's land law including on the consent clause and social impact assessment by dropping the changes brought by Modi Government in December last year and subsequently revalidated by Ordinance thrice.
Asked whether it was not a climbdown for the government, which went too far on the land bill issue promulgating an Ordiance on the issue thrice in favour of changes in the UPA's Act, the Union Minister said even the Constitution was amended more than 100 times.
The government appears to have changed its strategy in view of the fact that assembly elections in the agrarian state of Bihar are due in a short time and the ruling party may be averse to being seen as "anti-farmer", a charge Opposition had been making against the BJP.
Singh insisted "There is nothing like climb-down for anything. It is you, who are saying that we are going back.... Even the Constitution, which was made with the consent of all sections, had to be amended more than 100 times.
"We are sticking to our stand. Even when we referred the matter to the committee, we had said that we were of the view that the process of acquisition had to be speeded up but we were very clear that farmers' interests should not be ignored for that," he said.
Apart from Congress, which wanted restoration of UPA's 2013 Act, parties like Left, SP, JDU, BSP, BJD were also opposing the amendments tooth and nail.
Three NDA allies--Shiv Sena, SAD and Swabhimani Paksha -- had red-flagged a number of provisions of the bill and sought restoration of consent and social impact assessment.
Saffron affiliates including Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, Bhartiya Kisan Sangh, Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh and Akhil Bhartiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram also demanded restoration of the two clauses.
Out of 672 representations that were made before the panel, 670 opposed the amendments being brought by the government on the land bill particularly changes in consent clause and social impact survey.
The rural development minister, however, refused to treat them as any kind of opposition to the NDA's bills, saying they were "not opposing but making suggestions".
"This is not opposition but their suggestions be the views expressed by allies or the amendments given by the BJP MPs. This is true that whatever new suggestions have come, have to be considered," Singh said.
The rural development minister, whose opposition to the bill in the past was a matter of speculation and denied by him later, parried a question as what was his personal opinion on the consent clause and SIA, whose removal in the NDA bill has been opposed by most stakeholders and political parties including NDA allies.
"My opinion, I can tell you when you come alone and not in a press conference," the minister said in a lighter vein.
When asked whether Government will now come up with a new bill, Singh said more changes are not required when there is a consensus unless that bill is totally turned upside down.
"The committee has to consider three more clauses. Lets us wait for their report," he said.
Under the UPA Act, if the land acquired remained unutilised for five years, it had to be returned to the original owners or the land bank. The NDA bill modified it saying the period after which unutilised land will need to be returned will be either be five years or any period specified at the time of setting up the project, whichever is later.
The 2013 Act stated the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 will continue to apply in certain cases, where an award has been made under the 1894 Act but if such an award was made five years or more before the enactment of 2013 law and physical possession of land has not been taken or compensation has not been paid, the new law will apply.
In the proposed bill it was said that in calculating this time period, any period during which proceedings of acquisition were held up due to a stay order of a court, or a period specified in the award of a Tribunal for taking possession, or any period where possession has been taken but the compensation is lying deposited in a court or any account, will not be counted.
These two clauses of the bill are be taken up in the meeting of the land panel today, while the committte has already approved amendments to six of the nine key provisions of the NDA bill with a consensus.
With BJP retracting from its previous position, there is likelihood that the panel headed by BJP MP SS Ahluwalia will come out with a consensus report by August 7.
Out of the total 15 amendments in the NDA bill, nine were substantial in nature that have been opposed by Congress and a number of Opposition parties.
Out of these nine six including the provisions dealing with consent clause, social impact assessment, replacing the term private company with private entity were discussed yesterday and a consensus emerged on them.
The LARR Act, 2013 required that the consent of 80 percent of land owners is obtained for private projects and that the consent of 70 percent of land owners be obtained for PPP projects.
The NDA bill exempted the five categories from this provision of the Act. The categories included defence, rural infrastructure, affordable housing, industrial corridors, and infrastructure projects including Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects where the central government owns the land.
In addition, the bill permitted the government to exempt projects in these five categories from provisions of Social Impact Assessment (SIA) and restrictions on acquisition of irrigated multi-crop land and other agricultural land.
In the 2013 Act, SIA was to be conducted to identify affected families and calculate the social impact on people when a particular piece of land is acquired.