Monday, 10 August,New Delhi: The contentious land acquisition bill will not come to Parliament before the Winter Session, with the Joint Committee of Parliament examining the measure on Monday deciding to seek more time to finalise its report after Congress and TMC sought more time to study certain clauses.
The decision to seek further extension till the first week of the Winter Session came after a sharp excahge of words between BJP and Congress as the latter was opposed to any changes in the retrospective clause of the bill dealing with compensation of land acquired under the 1894 Act, which was replaced by the 2013 law passed by the UPA government. Giving in to the demands by Congress and TMC members for more time to study certain clauses threadbare, panel Chairman S S Ahluwalia decided that the Committee should not submit its report in this session ending on August 13 and instead do so in the first week of the Winter Session.
The committee was earlier given a fresh extension till tomorrow to submit its report. Following demand by Congress and TMC for more time, Ahluwalia decided to seek yet another extension from Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan as he wanted to submit a consensus report. This means that bill will come to Parliament only after assembly elections are over in the agrarian state of Bihar, where BJP is hoping to replace the incumbent Nitish Kumar government. Congress is using the NDA bill to paint the government as “anti-farmer”.
Today’s meeting was expected to evolve consensus on three key provisions including the one on return of unutilised land to its owners after five years and the retrospective clause. However, only the retrospective clause was taken up briefly during which the Congress members vociferiously opposed any change in provision 24 (2) of the UPA Act, which has been diluted in the NDA bill. Sources in the panel said former Rural Development Minister and Congress member on the committee Jairam Ramesh walked out in a huff when told that his party was engaging in “delaying tactics”.
However, Ahluwalia is learnt to have later persuaded Ramesh to return to the meeting. The UPA law stated the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 will continue to apply where an award has already been made.
However, if such an award was made five years or more before the enactment of The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Act, 2013 and physical possession of land had not been taken or compensation not paid, the UPA law will apply.
The NDA bill prescribes that in calculating this time, any period during which the 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 compensation is lying deposited in a court or any account, will not be counted. It basically amended Section 24(2) to exclude time spent under litigation where a stay order has been passed.
Monday’s meeting saw the Congress members making it clear that they are opposed to chnages in the 24(2), which the govenment wanted to amend. The issue of section 24(2) was widely debated at the meeting of the panel on July 27 as well. It is learnt that the government had then told meeting that states like Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Goa, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, and West Bengal, besides Chandigarh objected to section 24(2) of the Act and wanted it modified.
As the decision to extend the time of the committee was taken immediately after disagreement on this point, other issues like the provision on returning unutilised land and period of review could not be taken up. Last week, the Committee had unanimously approved key 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 BJP members moving amendments in the Joint Committee of Parliament seeking to bring back key provisions of UPA’s land law, including the consent clause and social impact assessment by dropping the changes brought in by the Modi government in December last year and subsequently revalidated by ordinance thrice.
The government had also expressed readiness to accept the recommendations of the committee, which has restored some dropped provisions of the UPA law, but insisted it was not a climbdown as it was always open to changes on which there was a consensus.
With the panel deciding to submit its report to Parliament in Winter session, the government may to have re-promulgate the ordinance. This will be fourth promulgation of the ordinance since it was issued for the first time in December last year.