New Delhi: Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh during the all party meeting on Thursday said there was an agreement that the Land Bill should be brought for discussion and passing in the second half of the Budget Session.
The minister is hopeful of finally replacing the colonial, 119-year-old Land Acquisition Act with a fairer law but added that Parliament must function. Between April 9-18, Ramesh reached out to leaders cutting across party lines. "If you have an open mind, if there is give and take on both sides, and if you keep the media away, some compromises are possible", said Jairam while speaking to CNN-IBN on how he hammered a consensus.
Below is the transcript of the interview:
CNN-IBN: After the Food Bill, the Land Bill is the most ambitious legislation of the UPA, particularly of the Congress party. And a consensus almost seemed unlikely when the meeting was held on April 9. But today there has been a breakthrough. What is the step ahead and how has this been achieved?
Jairam Ramesh: Contrary to what media reports have been, there was never any breakdown in any consensus. Even on the 9th, there was an all party consensus that we must have the bill in this session. But today it has been much more clear, it has been categorical and all parties have said that in this session of Parliament we must get this bill through. So that we have a new land acquisition act to replace a hundred and nineteen year old piece legislation which is not fair to farmers, which is not fair to livelihood losers and which gives excessive powers to the government to acquire land for all manner of purposes. This legislation is a step forward.
It does not take away the right of states. It respects the rights of states. Land acquisition is a concurrent subject, land is a state subject so we have to walk a fine dividing line, so we have respected the rights of the state governments and we have moved forward.
CNN IBN: How did you convince the principal opposition party, the BJP?
Jairam Ramesh: No, I think the BJP approached the all party meeting in a very constructive spirit. I had three rounds of meetings with Sushma Swaraj, I met Mr Arun Jaitley also on a one on one basis. If you have an open mind, if there is a give and take on both sides, and if you keep the media away, some compromises are possible. And there were two issues that Sushma Swaraj and Mr Jaitley raised... one is that the states must be given the option not to acquire but to lease land. We will make provisions for that. And secondly, a very important point they have made - is that a lot of private parties have gone and purchased land after September 5th, 2011 when the bill was introduced in anticipation of the bill becoming an act. And now they will be eligible for compensation when government acquires this land. So there is a huge bonanza, a huge windfall gain for these middlemen. And the benefit will not go to the farmer.
So what they are saying is that you must have some provision which ensures that if this land that has been purchased after 5th of September 2011, is acquired by the government, the benefit, if not hundred per cent, some 50 per cent should be shared with the farmers. I am perfectly in sympathy with this suggestion. This was made by Sushma Swaraj ji, Sharad Yadav, Anant Geete of the Shiv Sena all supported it and I also wholeheartedly endorsed it.
CNN-IBN: What are the suggestions of the Left that you have accepted. You have not accepted their suggestion that compensation in rural areas should be six times the land value?
Jairam Ramesh: Many of their objections are ideological and philosophical. So that we can continue to have a debate. It is lovely to have a debate with the left parties. But where they have made some points where I felt they have a very valid point, for example - where they said that government has given unfettered powers to amend the schedule, what if tomorrow the government were to decide to reduce the R&R and compensation package? It is a legitimate fear. We will take care of that. We will circumscribe the powers of the government. One important point the left parties have made - because of their experience in West Bengal, the tenants, the bargadars should be eligible for compensation, not just land owners. Now, bargadars are not land owners in the strict sense of the term but bargadars are tillers of the land, they are registered. Now, we have to look at some legal way of incorporating it.
But, it is an important point that they have raised which we will include in the bill. There are other points of operational significance that the left parties have made which we will certainly introduce - what is the guarantee that within one year the compensation and R&R of the thirteen acts which are there in schedule four will be brought on par with this act? So, I have said we'll say within a period not exceeding one year. It could be done within four months, could be six. These are some of the changes we have done to accommodate them.
CNN-IBN: You have always called the Land Bill a compromise. Because both parties are not happy. As it is when the law comes into force, the cost of acquisition will go up by six times. On the other hand, people are not happy because they feel people deserve more compensation, and should have the right to sell their land or not?
Jairam Ramesh: I have always said that it is a compromise. We have to take care of investor sentiment, we have to take care of need for industrialisation, the need for urbanisation. On the other land you have to ensure that the land owners, the livelihood losers get fair and adequate compensation and R&R.
I have myself compromised compared to the position I had on September 5th 2011 when the bill was introduced. That bill, was in my view a far tighter and far more progressive than the current bill that we have. The current bill is, you know, is a compromise of various groups. But in the process of compromise if every group is unhappy then I think I have done the right thing.