On his first day as Minister of Rural Development, Jairam Ramesh has taken the government head on over the Land Acquisition Bill.
Mr Ramesh said today that he has accepted the recommendations of the National Advisory Council, headed by Sonia Gandhi, on the Bill. The government had last week indicated that it would not accept several guidelines mooted by the NAC. At that time, Vilasrao Deshmukh handled the Rural Development Ministry.
Mr Ramesh said a draft of the new bill will be placed online next week for feedback, and that the Bill will then be introduced in the monsoon session of Parliament which starts on August 1.
Land acquisition - or how farmers are compensated for the land they give up for either public or private projects -has been adopted by Rahul Gandhi as his priority for Uttar Pradesh, ahead of the state's elections next year. Mr Gandhi conducted a walkathon through several villages in UP last week, spending headline-making nights at the houses of different farmers. UP Chief Minister Mayawati retorted that Mr Gandhi's sincerity would be better proven by introducing a new Land Acquisition Bill in Parliament.
Within the UPA coalition, there has been no consensus on the complex issue.
What Mrs Gandhi and the NAC want is for acquisition and rehabilitation -so far handled via different bills - to be combined into one new Act. This, the government said, would take too long. Mrs Gandhi's team also wants the acquisition of land for private projects to be handled completely by the government which would pay the farmers and then be reimbursed by entrepreneurs or corporates. The government says that's impossible, and that the government can acquire upto 30% of the overall land with the private party handling the rest once it has managed all the required clearances.
Mrs Gandhi's NAC also wanted land from farmers to be acquired at six times the market rate. The government says that's unfeasible. Instead, it had suggested the farmers should get at least 60% more than the market rate for their land. So if an acre is worth 10 lakhs, a farmer would get 16 lakhs according to the government's math, and 60 lakhs if the NAC's formula is followed.