Land Ordinance faces House Test as Anna, Kejri close ranks outside

New Delhi :  In the face of mounting protest against the Land Acquisition Ordinance, the government will table a bill in Parliament that seeks to convert it into an Act. It has six weeks to get the approval of both the houses, or else the ordinance would lapse.

Launching the protest at Jantar Mantar, social activist Anna Hazare said, ‘‘This is land grab by the government…This is what the Britishers used to do. To cater to industrialists, how can you betray farmers?”

In a move that would further scale up the protest, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, a protégé of Hazare, would join the protest on Tuesday. He called on the Gandhian activist at the Maharashtra Sadan this evening and touched his feet. After an hour-long meeting, his closest aide and Delhi minister Manish Sisodia told reporters, “Arvind and I will sit on dharna with Anna after the (Delhi assembly) session at 3 pm.”

The reunion of the two most famous faces of the Lokpal movement is expected to draw hundreds of protesters to Jantar Mantar in the heart of Delhi for Tuesday’s sit-in. Recognizing the new found status of his protégé, Hazare said: “Arvind Kejriwal is a Chief Minister: he cannot be treated like any ordinary citizen. If all agree, I will welcome Arvind Kejriwal on stage as Delhi chief minister,” and thus he would allow his campaign to take a political turn for the first time.

Realizing the hurdles in getting the bill past Parliament, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “In a democracy, there should be dialogue, discussion and positive outcome,” while seeking the cooperation of all parties during the course of the budget session.

Also indicating that the government was open to amendments, parliamentary affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu said: “If there is broad consensus we can make amendments…The purpose of the ordinance is speedy development and getting investments.” The BJP is also concerned that it can ill-afford being branded as anti-farmer and could rethink some of the controversial clauses in the ordinance, but is averse to withdrawing the ordinance as it would send out a negative signal to Industry and investors.

The controversial ordinance replaces a UPA-2 act and introduces a lot of key changes that are being opposed. For instance, the original Act requires the consent of 70 per cent of farmers in the area where land is to be acquired for Public-Private Partnership projects. The new clause exempts five categories from this rule — industrial corridors, public-private partnership projects, rural infrastructure, affordable housing and defence. In the earlier law, a social impact assessment was mandatory but the ordinance exempts the five categories from this requirement.

The existing law says land will be returned to the original owner if it is unused for five years. The proposed amendment scraps the five-year limit and says the land will be returned if it is unused for the period specified for the project.

The current law has a provision to penalise bureaucrats for any violations. The amended clause says government sanction will be required to prosecute civil servants. The earlier ordinance had excluded private hospitals and private educational institutions from the list of infrastructure projects. The amended clause includes them, which allows private companies to buy land at concessional rates. The ruling BJP and its allies are in a minority in the Rajya Sabha and need the support of opposition parties to pass laws. The Congress and parties like the Janata Dal United, the Left and Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party or NCP have said they oppose the land ordinance in the present form.

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