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Not upset with land acquisition ordinance, farmers’ interests protected: Union Minister Birendra Singh
DNA, 2 Jan 2015, New Delhi: Rural Development Minister Chaudhary Birender Singh on Friday dismissed suggestions that he was unhappy with the ordinance on Land Acquisition Act that paved the way for removal of consent clause for acquiring land for five areas and claimed some of the Congress ruled states had also sought changes in the law.
Strongly defending the ordinance, he asserted that farmers’ interests have been protected as “none of the clauses relating to compensation, relief and rehabilitation have been removed”. Asked why he was not present when three Union ministers went to President Mukherjee to explain the need for bringing the ordinance, Singh quipped, “Efforts were made to trace me but I could not be contacted. If the President has consulted one or two ministers, naturally they will be there.” There were media reports claiming that Singh, who hails from farmer-dominated Haryana and defected to BJP from Congress ahead of the state assembly polls, was upset over the dilution of law passed during the UPA regime.
“If I am angry, then I do not have to be in the Cabinet. Whatever I have done, I have ensured that farmers’ interests are protected. “None of the clauses relating to compensation, relief and rehabilitation have been removed,” the Union Minister asserted at a New Year press conference highlighting achievements of his ministry. Singh said that most of the states including some Congress-ruled ones like Kerala, Karnataka and Assam wanted changes in clauses related to consent and social impact assessment process as they were finding it very difficult to acquire land for pushing infrastructure and other development projects on the ground.
Responding to questions about the amendments being dubbed as anti-farmer, the Union Minister said that the states have the discretion to act or not on section 10-A, which has been added to the legislation keeping in the mind development needs of the society. “If some state thinks that only they are concerned about farmers, then they should not implement it,” Singh said, referring to the section which has been amended to expand the list of projects that would not require social impact assessment and prior consent of affected families.
He also denied any industry pressure on him to bring amendments in the land law saying, “I may not be the favourite of industry people. So nobody came to me.” Claiming that the Act passed during the UPA regime had 60 mistakes and needed to be corrected, Singh, who is the Union Minister for Rural Development, Panchayati Raj and Drinking Water and Sanitation, alleged that the UPA government passed it in a hurry to “please” Rahul Gandhi. “They committed so many mistakes to please Rahul ji. Now we are suffering,” he said.
The Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had on Monday decided to amend the Act to bring under its purview 13 central legislations, including those relating to defence and national security, to provide higher compensation and rehabilitation and resettlement benefits to farmers whose land is being acquired. After the Ordinance, the mandatory “consent” clause and Social Impact Assessment (SIA) will not be applicable if the land is acquired for five purposes including national security, defence rural infrastructure including electrification, industrial corridors and building social infrastructure including PPP where ownership of land continues to be vested with the government.
Amid the combined attack of opposition parties on the issue, three senior Union Ministers– Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Law Minister D V Sadananda Gowda and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari had met the President to explain the urgency in promulgating the ordinance on Land Acquisition before he gave his nod to it. At the press conference which was attended by Ministers of state for the three ministries– Ram Kripal Yadav, Sudarshan Bhagat and Nihal Chand, Singh said that state Revenue Ministers had in a conference of on June 27 suggested amendments to the land law.
“They (the states) said that they were facing a big problem in land acquisition with the existing provisions in the Act and it will take years and not months in acquiring land in this way. They demanded that fundamental changes should be brought in to it so that there is no difficulties in industrial and infrastructure development,” the Minister said. He said the biggest reason for bringing this ordinance was to bring under its purview 13 central legislations and provide relief and rehabilitations according to the new law.
Singh said that had the amendments not being brought, it would not have been possible to implement the provisions of resettlement and rehabilitations for projects under those 13 legislations. He also insisted that the ordinance making changes in the consent clause does not affect the provisions of compensation and resettlement and rehabilitations.
Speaking on other issues related to his Ministries, Singh talked about Swachh Bharat Mission and sought media’s patronage in carrying out messages on sanitation saying it has significant role towards changing the mindset of the people. In a tongue and cheek remark, Singh said “I never had a talk with Vidya Balan” when asked whether the film actress named as brand ambassador on sanitation during former Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh continues to discharge that responsibilities.