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Land Bill committee to seek extension amid more 'nays'

Barely a handful of witnesses have supported amendments before a joint parliamentary committee

Archis Mohan  |  New Delhi 

Of the nearly four dozen witnesses to have appeared before the Parliamentary joint committee to study the land Bill, barely a handful has supported the amendments to the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. The committee is now planning to seek an extension of a week on the plea that it will be unable to finish its consultations in time to submit its report by the first day of the monsoon session of Parliament.

The session is scheduled from July 21 to August 13. Committee Chairman S S Ahluwalia will need to request the Speaker for the extension and the two Houses will need to approve a motion on the first day to allow the committee a week more. This would enable the committee to submit its report by the first day of the second week of the three week session.

The need for the extension has arisen because most of the chief secretaries of states have not reverted to the government on various issues raised by the committee, particularly their views on the amendments moved by the government to the 2013 Act. The committee held its first meeting on May 29. The committee, starting June 8, has been meeting twice a week on Mondays and Tuesdays. It held its eighth meeting on Monday and is slated to meet again on Tuesday.

According to some of the 30 members of the committee, nearly all the witnesses and an overwhelming number of the hundreds of emails received by the committee have opposed the government amendments. A source said those who have supported the amendments have done it in "a half-hearted" and "non-serious" manner.

In a telltale tweet, Trinamool Congress MP Derek O'Brien, a member of the committee, said: "44 witnesses have testified on the land Bill. Oh how I wish proceedings of Parliamentary committee meetings did not have to be kept confidential." The Trinamool Congress, most opposition parties and even Sangh Parivar-affiliated outfits have opposed the government-sponsored amendments.

In Monday's meeting, agriculture institutes and think-tanks pressed for the need to "first acquire wasteland and use cultivable land as a last resort". Representatives from the Indian Council for Agriculture Research, G B Pant University and Punjab Agriculture University were among those who deposed before the panel. These institutes were invited on the suggestion of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar. Indian National Lok Dal MP Dushyant Chautala also appeared before the panel as a witness to oppose the amendments.

On Tuesday, the committee will hear the views of Sangh-affiliated Swadeshi Jagran Manch. The Manch, which held its national level consultations in Vijaywada on Sunday, is vehemently opposed to the amendments. It had held a protest against the government amendments to the land Bill in Delhi in May and termed the Bill "anti-farmer".

According to rules, the committee considers the Bill clause-by-clause just as the two Houses do. Amendments can be moved to various clauses by the members of the committee. The committee can also take evidence of associations, public bodies or experts who are interested in the Bill. After the Bill has thus been considered, the committee submits its report to Parliament.

Most of those appearing before the panel, or writing to it, might have opposed the amendments but they do not have voting rights. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has as many as 14 members in the 30 member committee, with 11 from the BJP. The NDA could also reach out to smaller regional parties with a member each in the committee like the YSR Congress, Telangana Rashtra Samiti and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. Of the opponents of the Bill, the Congress has five and Trinamool two. The Samajwadi Party, NCP, Janata Dal (United), Biju Janata Dal, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Bahujan Samaj Party have one MP each in the committee.

First Published: Tue, June 30 2015. 00:30 IST