At a time when the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Second Amendment) Bill, 2015 is being examined by a joint committee of Parliament, the promulgation — for a third time — of an Ordinance shows scant regard on the part of the Narendra Modi government for democratic norms. Despite public expressions to the contrary by even Mr. Modi, the BJP-led NDA government appears disinclined to concede any ground to the Opposition on its key demands to restore clauses relating to consent and social impact assessment that were integral to the 2013 Act. Not surprisingly, therefore, Opposition MPs on the joint committee are planning to disassociate themselves from it. Sitaram Yechury, CPI(M) general secretary and a member of the committee, has described the re-promulgation of the Ordinance as “absolutely untenable constitutionally in a democracy”. Even as the ruling dispensation shows no sign of relenting, murmurs of unhappiness have come from within the BJP itself, especially from MPs who represent rural constituencies. In fact, at the first meeting of the joint committee some BJP members, worried about the political fallout of the proposed changes, expressed their concern. Even the BJP’s NDA allies, the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Shiv Sena, have raised questions about the wisdom of persisting with such an unpopular move.
Evidently, the Modi government misread the signs: for even senior officials who see merit in the proposed changes (as they feel it would simplify land acquisition and put infrastructure projects on the fast track) say the government should have engaged the Opposition in a discussion before bringing the Bill forward. It should have also, they add, conducted a countrywide exercise of opinion-making before attempting to initiate changes. Now, the Opposition, led by the Congress, has had sufficient time to run its campaign against the government-sponsored changes. Reports from the ground suggest that a substantial swathe of the population believes the government draft goes against the interests of the rural poor and is anti-farmer. Unfortunately for the government, all this has coincided with unseasonal rain that has damaged crops, and a hike in fertilizer prices. Yet, the minimum support price for crops has not been increased commensurately. Taken together, the message is that this is indeed a suit boot ki sarkar — in Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s shorthand — that does not care for the agricultural class; it just wants a land law that would favour the corporate rich. The ruling dispensation’s plan to call a joint session after the current Land Bill is defeated in the Rajya Sabha, flies in the face of pragmatic politics, as it would just give the Opposition even more ammunition. The only explanation is that its numbers in the Lok Sabha have blinded the government to the predominant national mood.
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