Land Acquisition Bill, championed by Rahul Gandhi, in Lok Sabha today

Land Acquisition Bill, championed by Rahul Gandhi, in Lok Sabha today

A farmer prepares his land for cultivation

New Delhi:  Up today in Parliament is the ruling Congress' next big populist gambit - the land acquisition Bill. The bill aims to supercede a century-old law and compensate farmers and other landowners up to four times the market value when their land is acquired for industrial development. (See: The ten key features of Land Bill)

If the food bill, passed by the Lok Sabha this week, was championed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, the land acquisition bill, also seen as a potential vote-catcher for the Congress, is party number 2 Rahul Gandhi's pet project.

The Bill, which seeks to retire the land acquisition law of 1894, provides for  "just and fair" compensation, proposing that up to four times the market value will be paid for land acquired in rural areas and two times the market value in urban areas. India's Industry says these provisions are too costly.

The government says the Bill aims at making people whose land is acquired partners in development. The Bill also proposes that acquiring land for public-private partnerships will need the consent of 70 per cent of the landowners in the area being acquired. For private companies to acquire such land, at least 80 per cent of the owners will have to agree.

This, argues the government, will ensure that there is no forcible acquisition of land. Industry is worried that these clauses will make land acquisition not only time-consuming, but impossible in many cases. There is worry that the timing of the bill, with the rupee and growth parameters sliding, will put off investors further.

Rahul Gandhi brought attention to the land acquisition struggle when he took up cudgels on behalf of farmers in the Bhatta Parsaul agitation of Greater Noida. Mr Gandhi rode pillion on a motorbike, protested with farmers and challenged the Uttar Pradesh government of Mayawati.

Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, who will move the Bill in the Lok Sabha today, said, "The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2012 conveys the government's determination to address widespread and historical injustices".

The bill is expected to sail through the Lower House, with main Opposition party, the BJP, supporting it. To win that support, the government has agreed to several changes that the party, and specifically Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj, had sought.

The Left supports the bill, but wants it to be sent to a parliament panel for clearance. So does the Trinamool Congress.

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