A productive Budget session of Parliament is in the offing with the government having hinted to some in the Opposition parties that it is willing to have a detailed discussion on the law to replace the land acquisition ordinance and will look at their concerns on the issue with an “open mind”.
It will, however, remind the Congress that the ordinance was only a better version of the 2013 Act and that ordinances to acquire land for industrialisation and new townships were brought during the prime ministerial tenures of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi.
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In a quid pro quo, such an approach could enable the government to find support in the Rajya Sabha on other key Bills like easing of foreign equity norms in the insurance sector and the ordinance on coal block allocation. The National Democratic Alliance is in a minority in the Rajya Sabha. The government was forced to bring in ordinances as Rajya Sabha proceedings during the winter session were a washout because of opposition protests on ‘ghar wapasi’ campaigns. The government strategy is likely to unfold in the second week of the Budget session that starts Monday, with the first few days expected to be raucous as some opposition leaders, particularly from the left parties, are slated to take part in a protest against the land ordinance. Sangh Parivar outfits like the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh have made common cause with these protests on February 23 and 24.
The Congress believes the land issue can help connect the beleaguered party with farmers and its grassroots support base, but it will not lend support to the protests at Jantar Mantar led by activist Anna Hazare and the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh. “We have directed our pradesh committees to swing into action, after all we were the ones who brought in the Land Acquisition Act,” a Congress leader said. He said the party could not be seen compromising with the government on the issue.
It is a sentiment the government has understood well with senior ministers having reached out to the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad. An all-party meeting has been called on the eve of the budget session on Sunday. “We will try convincing the Congress that our ordinance is nothing but an improvement on theirs, with better compensation and rehabilitation provisions,” a Bharatiya Janata Party leader said.
The government is of the view that neither the Congress nor Janata Parivar parties have much ammunition left after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s commitment to protect religious freedom, and were likely to accept its olive branch. Personal relations between the two sets of leaders have also looked up.
The most senior leader in the Janata Parivar, Mulayam Singh Yadav, attended the wedding reception of the son of BJP President Amit Shah on Sunday. The PM is scheduled to attend the ‘tilak’ ceremony of Mulayam Singh’s grandnephew Tej Pratap, who will wed Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad’s daughter Raj Lakshmi. Installation of a Nitish Kumar-led coalition government in Bihar would help with a smooth Budget session.
Janata Dal (United) President Sharad Yadav said the Budget session could be stormy if opposition concerns on the land issue were not considered. He, however, is unlikely to attend next week’s protest led by Anna Hazare. “We have plans for a much larger protest on the issue later,” he said.
The BJP has conducted intensive research on the issue of land acquisition. A BJP leader said the Congress should not forget how both Nehru and Indira Gandhi had brought in ordinances to boost industrial growth. “In July 1962, the Nehru government brought in an ordinance to acquire land for industrialisation. In 1967, the Indira Gandhi government brought in a similar ordinance that made acquiring land for public purposes easier, and again in 1984 for building new townships,” he said.
The United Progressive Alliance unveiled its policy on special economic zones in 2005-06 with a similar aim of encouraging reforms and economic development, the leader added.
The BJP says the land ordinance is different from that of the UPA’s 2013 law in respect of acquiring of land for national security, for setting up infrastructure in rural areas, housing for poor, industrial corridors and setting up hospitals and educational institutions. The government is likely to engage with the Congress with an “open mind” on all of these issues, and is hopeful of a finding a compromise on some of the sticking points.
The Congress is unlikely to oppose the bill to replace the insurance ordinance as its concerns have been taken care of by the standing committee. On the coal ordinance, its reservations have related to opening up of mines to the private sector but the party is unlikely to be unyielding on the issue.
The government still has time on its hands as the Bills to replace the ordinances will be taken up in the first week of March. The mechanism of the joint session might be invoked only as a last resort after President Pranab Mukherjee pointed out how it was a rare occurrence, sources said.