R&M Exclusive: Ch Birender Singh slams Oppn for Land Act retreat

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CaptureWhile admitting that the industrialisation process in the country will be hampered with the Government going back to Land Act 2013, Rural Development Minister Chaudhary Birender Singh holds opposition parties responsible for not letting it pass the Bill to amend the UPA legislation. In a long drawn-out conversation, the minister who also holds the charge of Panchayati Raj, Drinking Water & Sanitation, told Realty & More Editor Palash Roy that besides providing basic infrastructure, generating economic activity in the villages is one of the top priorities of his ministry.

Palash Roy: What was the thought process behind the decision of not re-promulgating the land Bill ordinance?

Chaudhary Birender Singh: In the last Parliament session when the Bill was under discussion, a decision was taken that a joint committee of Parliament should be constituted and it should give the report so that if there is any chance of consensus, then it would be good for the legislation as it would be protecting the interests of all the stakeholders.

It was given time that in the monsoon session it would submit the report in the first week. But it sought extension, not once, but twice, thrice and then ultimately when the third extension was given, that was given for the next session, that is, winter session of Parliament. So, in that case we never wanted to go for any ordinance. Our main aim was to see that the 13 Central legislations, which were not included in 2013 Act, should be included. But it was not possible though we issued three ordinances, then ultimately it was decided that let us do it by order.

So, to protect the interests of the farmers, specifically for rehabilitation, resettlement and also of the compensation under those 13 legislations, we decided to issue an executive now that the order is order. And operational, farmers and the landowners whose land would be acquired, or is under the process of acquisition, their interests would be safeguarded.

PR: But the original 2013 Act also mentioned bringing in those 13 Acts under the purview of the Land Act after a year. This, anyway, was to happen. We have virtually wasted one year?

BR: No this not a question of wastage. I shall put this question to the framers of that legislation, why they kept these 13 legislations out of the 2013 Act? They should have done it in the first chance when the Bill was through in both the Houses of Parliament. There was no such resistance at that time.

Capture 2PR: But it did say that after a year it would be done!

BR: Yes. They made it mandatory in the provision itself that is Section 105 of the 2013 Act, which said that these 13 legislations should be included before December 31, 2014. That is how it was interpreted.

BR: It is being said that this has been done keeping in view the forthcoming Bihar elections, so that there is no anti-farmer tag, as this Government is being perceived as pro-industry. How much of this is true?
BR:
No, that is not the case! If you go into the details of bringing out the amended legislation then you would know that al the states of our country, whether ruled by the Congress, the BR or the regional parties, they were all one on this issue, that the present legislation is not working wet it is creating more problems. So, we decided to bring this legislation so that the acquisition procedure could be speeded up. That was our intention. But these very parties who were supporting, when they were thrown out of power from some of the states like Haryana, Maharashtra, and other states, they became champion of the farmers. These are the same fellows, who said no, if this Act continues like this, we will not be able to acquire even a single acre of land. That is why we had brought it. Also, we have not touched any of the provisions, by which the interests of landowning community are protected.

Even we went to the extent that when it comes to rehabilitation, one of the sections says to provide job to farmers’ family whose land has been acquired: But we said not only the farmer’s family, but also the crop shareholder who is landless, if his earning is dependent on the land, his family should be given a job. So, all the provisions of rehabilitation, resettlement and compensation have been kept intact.

Capture 4PR: The idea of low-cost housing was to get cheap land. If land prices shoot up, so will the prices of the finished product. How was then the ‘Housing for AIl by 2022’ Mission of the Government be achieved?

BR: I deal with Rural Development. As far as my ministry is concerned, we have 2,46,000 Gram Panchayats in the country, and about six lath villages. So wherever in a revenue state when the land is available for Panchayat which is a common land, where the ownership rests with the villagers or a common pool, or where the Panchayat is the owner of the land, they are themselves corning forward that we are ready to part with our land to see that everybody, who is not having a house in our village, shal be provided a house. This is very common practice. So, in the rural areas, this not a problem.

But in cities and towns, if the municipal corporation or municipal committees do not have a piece of land to develop ‘Housing for All’, then naturally they will go for acquisition and they may face this problem. But this is only one component of the housing. There other components — cement, steel, etc. Also to avoid such kind of pressure, in cities you can go for vertical growth. That will be cheaper, and this kind of living is universaly accepted.

PR: The Land Act also requires Social Impact Assessment (SIA) study to be carried out. Don’t you think this is very cumbersome and will lead to further delays?

BR: That is what I said that if this process is strictly followed, then at least 59 months are required to complete the process of acquisition. And most of the time will be consumed in Social Impact Assessment (SIA) study.

PR: This means that the entire process of Industrialisation or the growth process would be slowed and delayed?

BR: Naturally! That is why the states irrespective of their political affiliations, first they all wanted the process to be speeded up. They were never opposed to it. They could see that the present legislation doesn’t have any cushion by which the process can be speeded up. So, 28 states said that there should be substantial changes in the 2013 Act. And on that basis we brought the legislation. But a party which has ruled the country for more than 50 years, when it went out of power it thought that this is the biggest constituency of electorate and here is a chance to prove itself as the hero of the peasantry and fight it out. They were retrieving their lost face. That was the only angle.

In the latest NM Ayog meeting, chief ministers were of the opinion that they should be given the right. So now what we have thought is that since this is a matter of Concurrent list, you can come up with your own legislation, we don’t mind, but if the legislation is in conformity with our legislation, Rashtrapatiji would give the consent.

Capture 2PR: Do you fed that the legislations of the states would be In conformity with the Union legislation?

BR: If they don’t, then we’ll see.

PR: The industry was upbeat on the Government, but post this decision of not re-promulgating the ordinance, it is feting dejected. They think that the Government has moved a step backwards. What do you say on that?

BR: No, this not going back! The simple fact is we are a parliamentary democracy, and I am of this opinion that in such bigger issues we must try to see that there is a consensus. That’s why we have left it to the states. If a particular state is eager for a speedy development, it can go for this legislation, because you can’t wait indefinitely for A a legislation to come with a consensus of al stakeholders. States should come forward and take their own decisions.

I am also surprised that when the discussion on this was happening in the Lok Sabha, some of the prominent MPs from BJD, TMC and also of the Congress were of the opinion that in our county there are at least 20 acre youngsters are dependent on agriculture and it has become a losing proportion for them, so they mug be taken out of the agriculture domain and should be given something new so that they can come up in life. So on the one hand, they were making this plea, and on the other, they were opposing the Bill. They were blowing hot and cold in the same breath. Therefore, I think that is not a good decision of the political outfits, because as you put it rightly, it will certainly ham the industrial development of our country. And if industrial development is hampered it ns problem of unemployment.

Capture 3PR: Does this mean that if a no NDA state Government comes up with legislation, you equally co-operative with it!

You will see the result. All the states which were daiming that there should be a consent cause, there should be Social Impact Assessment, I would show you that they would come with legislation that we don’t want consent clause because it is among procedure, we don’t want Social Impact Assessment. This is as per the Hindi saying — haathi ke daant dikhane ke our khaane ke aur. They will come to know that everything can’t run on the basis of politics, we need to see the ground realities also, and if don’t see them, naturaty we wil be left behind.

We have lot of such examples in our own country. But if some states are capable to purchase land privately, then no legislation is required. The Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister is making such efforts. I have been told that he was in a position to negotiate for 28,000 acres of land. So if that is the practice that is also very good. We don’t have any objection. I have been told that in developed countries, even in America, acquisition is very minimum. It is always sale and purchase between the parties.

Capture 6PR: Lastly, what is your roadmap for the Rural Development Ministry?

BR: A total of 68 per cent of our population is in the villages. I think providing physical infrastructure, connectivity, and also some basic amenities to villages, which are available in a city or a town, is one step. But that is not sufficient.

We will have to see and make efforts that there should also be economic activity in the villages, maybe, in the cluster of villages or individual villages. If there is no economic activity and no generation of wealth, then the very infrastructure is of no use. So, what we have thought is how to see that there is a value-addition to the products in the villages which are prominent of a particular area or a village. This value-addition will result in increasing the income of a farmer many times. This will help in multiplying his income. We are thinking that if we create a market demand at a farmer’s doorstep, and if we can create that infrastructure so that he can value-add to his product. This will be real development of villages.

And whenever such things are discussed, the Prime Minister also has very clarity on such subjects, that’s why he brought so many things. One basic thing which he has brought is every family in our country should be connected to the banking system. Banking system will not only create a habit to save, but it wil bring transparency in our economy, and also the sharing pattern of the wealth of this country would undergo a change, and that is what Prime Minister emphasises, and that is why in a very short span of seven-eight months, the total accounts of individuals in the banks of our country have increased from about 3.5 crore to more than 17crore. We have 24 crore families in our country, and 17crore of them are already connected to the banking system, which in 68 years of Independence, nobody has thought of. So this is a great achievement of our Government, and specially the thinking of the Prime Minister, which is altogether a different way of working.