The government is likely to make another effort for a consensus on the land bill with opposition parties and may issue a "re-ordinance", Union Minister Birender Singh today said.
"We are thinking to make one more attempt and talk to other political parties so that we may have a consensus. As everyone is aware Land Acquisition Ordinance will expire on April 5, may be we will have to issue re-ordinance," the Union Rural Development Minister said addressing a news conference here.
"We will get in touch with the opposition parties so that a consensus is arrived at, which is in country's interests and farmers' interests. We are hopeful that we will be successful and the Act with new amendments will take the shape of a law," the minister said.
Singh blamed the Congress for starting a "misinformation campaign" on the land bill to "mislead the farmers and the people".
He asked media not to be misled by the "lies" being spread that the bill was anti-farmer.
He said that the government was trying to address few concerns of the farmers.
Regarding the provision of going for acquisition of more land for future expansion of a particular project, Singh said, "We will talk to opposition parties in this regard. We are trying to ensure that farmers' interests remain protected and excess land is not taken from them unnecessarily under the plea of future expansion."
He said they were also mulling to have a Committee headed by MLA and MP of a concerned area where the land is to be acquired since they can raise the farmers' concerns.
He said, "Through the press, many things were said before, like the Coal Bill will fall flat in Rajya Sabha and Mine and Mineral Act won't be passed, but when all facts were put before we succeeded. Insurance Bill was also passed. Be it BJD, Trinamool Congress, BSP, SP, DMK and AIADMK, all supported Mines and Mineral and Coal Bill."
The government had promulgated the ordinance on land acquisition on December 31 last year. A bill to replace the ordinance was brought to Parliament in Budget Session which started on February 23.
While the bill, providing for amending the Act of 2013, was cleared by the Lok Sabha earlier this month, it got stuck in Rajya Sabha with the entire opposition uniting against it in the House where the ruling NDA is in a minority. Since then the Budget Session has gone into recess till April 20.
Birender Singh hit out at the opposition Congress for accusing the government of trying to take the ordinance route, reminding them that "to reconstitute Indian Medical Council, the then Health Minister on four occasions issued re-ordinance."
Singh said that they accuse the BJP government for "hiding facts" from the public. "But, let me put it straight that if anyone hid facts or presented them in twisted manner, it is the Congress party."
"The hurry they showed in passing this Act (2013), was because they were attempting to garner votes of farmers ahead of the Lok Sabha elections last year. On the other hand now they protest at Bhatta Parsaul (in Uttar Pradesh) against the new acquisition law and claim they are fighting for the farmers cause," he said.
Presenting facts and figures, he said, "When it became known that in Haryana (during previous dispensation) also that the Act (passed during UPA rule) may have an impact, notices under Section 4 (to start acquisition process) for 24,000 acres of land were issued so that the land under old land law could be acquired."
He said that former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda claims to be "pro-farmer" but had sent officers to meet the Central Ministers. Those officers had taken strong objection to the consent clause which talked about consent from 70-80 per cent land holders.
Stating that the new bill as "farmer-friendly", he said, it was decided that in rural areas compensation will be double than urban areas and solatium will be further doubled.
"But we are blamed that BJP Government has slashed land compensation rate," he said.
He alleged said that as per the rules framed by the previous Congress government in Haryana under the old Act, farmer who should have got four times compensation would get only double.
"Barring five states, no state framed rules under the (2013) Act, because everyone wanted amendments, reasoning that if rules are framed under the previous law, it won't be of much benefit."
The then Congress government in Maharashtra made it clear that up to 2000 hectares of land which is acquired, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Clause and Compensation will not be applicable, he claimed.
Birender Singh further said that the government was thinking of another amendment in the Bill, that would enable Municipal Corporations outside city limits for having compensation at par with villages.
He said, "We also want to have provision that wasteland or uncultivable land, be first exhausted. However, if canal or railway line is to be constructed, these will be exceptions, but for infrastructure, wasteland and non cultivable land will be given priority for acquisition purposes."
"As far as consent clause goes, this is one issue which needs to be seriously thought over," he said, adding "in current times we don't even have consent within family on a particular issue".
"But we want to take farmers on board for this. I don't think 70-80 per cent will be possible. If consensus is there (with other parties), we may think of lowering it to 50 to 60 per cent, but the consent should be of the land owners and not those who may be occupying that piece of land," he clarified.
He said last year representatives deputed by majority states and union territories were "unanimous" that acquisition won't be possible if consent is to be taken from 70-80 per cent land holders.
He further said that land under now defunct public sector undertakings may also be brought under use.
"PSUs, for example like the HMT, Pinjore, which is lying closed for long, before we acquire new land, we must exhaust this land, we are also thinking over this."
"I want to assure that farmers' interests will be protected. They will be given higher compensation, clauses relating to Resettlement and Rehabilitation under the 2013 Act, have not been touched in anyway because they are pro-farmer," he stated.
Singh further said that if country has to make progress and move ahead, having a balance in what Government intends to do is essential, "which we are doing".
When asked that he was kin of late Sir Chottu Ram, who was considered as farmers' messiah, how will he dispel the propaganda that farmers interests are not safe under the new law, Singh said, "We are victims of false propaganda."
"If media also thinks that farmers land will be snatched, then I feel I can only say if I had the strength as Lord Hanuman did to tear apart his chest to show the image of Lord Rama inside, I would do the same thing to show that I will be the last man to compromise or overlook the interests of farmers."
Again attacking the Congress, he said the party leader Rahul Gandhi had been strong votary of the UPA's Land Act, "how many seats they got, just 44 (in the LS polls), which was not heard of in Congress' history, which means that farmers did not have hopes from the Congress party. We are saying this with responsibility that we will not let any compromise with farmers interests and their rehabilitation."
Birender Singh said that both Haryana and Punjab have 83 and 87 per cent land respectively under multi-crop cultivation.
"No government wants that such land is acquired. But if SYL canal is to be constructed and Haryana is to be given its share and we need 400-600 acres of land, won't that be in Haryana's favour," he said.
He said that there were 54 deficiencies in the 2013 Act passed by the previous UPA that also included spelling and typographical errors.
He also went into details that prompted the NDA government to bring ordinance on the issue and the amendments.
The minister said that Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Uttrakhand and other governments had also sought amendments in the consent clause of the old act.
About the clause under the previous Act that if land was not acquired for intended purpose within five years then it be returned to the owners, Singh said it was not found to be practical since farmers go into litigation resulting in long delays, which cannot be accepted where land has to be acquired for vital national interests like for railways, defence and other such purposes.
He also denied that the present government had taken out Social Impact and Food Security clauses from the Act.
"This is baseless. It is up to the concerned states whether they want to keep these or not," he said.