In a major climb down, the Modi government on Monday gave in under pressure of the Opposition as well as from a section of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its allies, and some affiliates of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to make a U-turn on the controversial law acquisition bill.
While there has not been any official word on the development, a joint parliamentary panel headed by BJP member of Lok sabha SS Ahluwalia has agreed to accommodate all the major recommendation of the Opposition members on the panel.
With this the new Bill will look like a veritable replica of the 2013 Bill that the Modi government had tried to amend to meet the demand of the corporate and Government agencies for carrying out speedy development activities in the areas of infrastructure building, highway construction, defense, and low-costing housing, among other things.
This will be the first policy reversal by the Modi government, which repeatedly emphasized that it would not compromise on any matter that will come in the way of reviving the investment climate and restoring the confidence of the investors in a stable policy environment.
The U-turn on the land bill comes just days after a report by the venerable Moody’s Analytics Inc had said that the Modi’s government’s failure to push through important legislative reforms, such as the land acquisition bill, labor laws and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) bill, will hurt India’s medium-to-long-term growth prospects.
There is no hope that the Government will be able to pass the GST bill in the presentation monsoon session whereas it is also facing strong opposition from trade unions on amending the labor laws to introduce a hire-and-fire regime.
In an abject surrender before the Opposition, the BJP members on the panel themselves moved amendments to bring back the key provisions of the previous bill, including those on the consent clause and social impact assessment. The Modi government had tried to do away with these two key provisions, triggering countrywide uproar.
The 2013 Act of the UPA government required consent of 70% of landholders for public partnership projects and and 80% for private projects. In addition to the Congress-led Opposition and Left parties, three key BJP’s allies – Shiv Sena, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Swabhimani Paksha were also opposed to several provisions of the bill. They were clamoring for restoration of the consent and social impact assessment clauses.
The RSS affiliate organizations such as the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, Bhartiya Kisan Sangh, Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh and Akhil Bhartiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram were also opposed to the bill, demanding restoration of the consent clause and social impact assessment.
The Congress is euphoric over the development. “It’s as good as our own Act of 2013,” a Congress member of the panel said.
While the panel has agreed to restore the consent clause and social impact assessment clause, there was still no clarity on yet another contentious provision which the Opposition is not ready to accept. According to the the Land Administration Reform Act (LARA) 2013, a land has to be returned to its owners if the project for which it is acquired foes not take off in five years. The present bill had sought to do away with this time frame.
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