Rejecting the dialogue offer on the controversial land bill, Sonia Gandhi on Friday alleged it was a mockery of the consensus building tradition by a “myopic” NDA government which was “bending backwards” to favour industrialists and demanded that UPA’s legislation be brought back in totality.
“Proposition of a post-facto debate after unilateral imposition of anti-farmer law is mockery of building partisan consensus,” the Congress president said replying in a strongly worded letter to Union Minister Nitin Gadkari.
Chiding the government for painting those opposing its land bill as anti-nationals, Gandhi asked the government to “rise above its narrow-minded politics”.
Hailing farmers as the “backbone” of the country, Gandhi said Congress cannot support any law which hurts farmers, and asked the dispensation to bring back UPA’s land bill in totality.
Gandhi said it was regrettable that anyone championing the cause of distressed farmers and needy farm labourers was being branded as “anti-national” by a “myopic Modi government bending backwards to favour select industrialists”.
Last week, Gadkari had written to Sonia Gandhi, leaders of other opposition parties and social activist Anna Hazare inviting them to an open debate on the issue while asserting that the bill was “very much in farmers’ interest”.
Alleging that it is now being widely recognised that the NDA government is “blatantly anti-farmer and anti-poor”, Gandhi said that it is “compromising the rights of the weaker sections of society to benefit a handful of private parties”.
Asserting that the interests of farmers have to be protected at any cost, Gandhi said this was “non-negotiable for the Congress party and it will “never endorse” any law that will break the backbone of this nation.
Every possible scenario of land acquisition was discussed threadbare, including the issues you have raised in your letter — irrigation, defence, electricity and industrial corridors – and the bill was passed by Parliament only after all relevant stakeholders, including your party, were satisfied.
Gandhi insisted that the 2013 law was not a legacy of just the Congress party but of all parties – including the BJP – which gave their suggestions and came together for a landmark legislation to give primacy to the interests of farmers and labourers.
Seeking to rebut points raised by Gadkari in his letter earlier, Gandhi said she was amazed at its unabashed display of “half-truths and misrepresentations.”
Posing a number of questions over the intentions of the government behind bringing the land ordinance, Gandhi said that there are “fundamental differences” in the approach of Congress and BJP to the cause of farmers.
She said that while the 2013 law stipulated that the Social impact Assessment (SIA) of any land to be acquired had to be completed within six months, the NDA government has “completely done away with this requirement” and wondered “is this in the interest of farmers?
The 2013 law required that 80 per cent of the farmers give consent in acquisition for private companies and 70 per cent for PPP projects. But you have done away with this consent requirement altogether except for a few insignificant cases. Is this in the interest of farmers?
Gandhi also pointed out that under the 2013 law, those whose lands were being acquired under the 1894 Act and who hadn’t accepted the compensation or whose lands had not been taken possession of, would get enhanced compensation.
“By amending this provision and adding another qualification you have disqualified lakhs of farmers who would have got enhanced benefits under the 2013 law. In this process you have also gone against recent judgements of the Supreme Court. Is this how you protect the interests of farmers?
“In the 2013 law, land that had not been utilised for a period of five years was to be returned to the original owners. But you have now allowed the acquirer to hold the land virtually for as long as desired.”
Gandhi also slammed as “completely ill-founded” the government taking credit for enhanced compensation and Rehabilitation and Resettlement (R&R) benefits for 13 laws that are in the Fourth Schedule of the 2013 Act.
Further, you have used these mandated amendments as a cover to push through other changes that significantly dilute the 2013 law. Your attitude to these matters and your proposed legislation make a mockery of your claim that you stand for the interest of farmers,” she said pointing to “digressions” in Gadkari’s letter.
Gandhi said that while there can be no two opinions that the country absolutely needs to enhance its irrigation potential, build more indigenous defence factories and further improve rural infrastructure, “this cannot be at the cost of pushing farmers into a pitiable condition or destroying their livelihoods”.
She claimed that in the 2013 Act, these issues were actively dealt with in order to facilitate rural infrastructure and defence industry, without sacrificing the interest of farmers citing various clauses from the old bill.
Section 40 of the 2013 Act (the ‘urgency clause’) specifically exempts defence and national security projects from both the consent and Social Impact Assessment.
Gandhi said that the 2013 law specifically exempted irrigation projects from the social impact assessment when the environmental impact assessment had already been carried out.
The Congress President also wondered as to why the NDA government amended the 2013 Act to acquire a kilometre of land on either side of the industrial corridor.