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Will Vadra's land dealings cast a shadow on Cong's hard sell Land Bill?


Rupashree Nanda,CNN-IBN
Sep 15, 2013 at 10:57am IST

New Delhi: Asserting that the Congress Vice President deserved all the credit for the Land Bill, Union Minister Jairam Ramesh said Rahul Gandhi made three crucial suggestions - there should be one law for land acquisition and rehabilitation, livelihood losers should also be compensated and also the change in the name of the bill.

In an exclusive interview to CNN-IBN's Rupashree Nanda, when asked whether he was nervous that the Land Bill may not get the nod of Parliament given the regular disruptions, Ramesh said, "I was prepared for the worst."

The 2013 land legislation, a crucial poll plank of the Congress party, saw the government going out of the way to accommodate the concerns of MP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan by moving amendments in the Rajya Sabha even after the bill had got the nod in the Lok Sabha. Ramesh said, "I don't mind giving in to pressure if the pressure is legitimate, if there is a point in that pressure, if that pressure is coming in the aid of a good cause" adding that the BJP could have been troublesome in the Rajya Sabha. But will Robert Vadra's land dealings cast a shadow on the Congress's hard sell?

Here is the full transcript of the interview:

Rupashree Nanda: Your party at one point was also thinking of the ordinance route for the land bill. So when it was finally passed, did you have moments of nervousness? Did you feel that at some point that it might not go through?

Jairam Ramesh: No, let me first clarify - there was never any intention to go through the ordinance route and I was very clear in my mind that we'll not go through the ordinance route, that it is a very important bill, that it is a very complicated bill, very complex bill, it is a very historic bill because we are replacing a 119-year-old law. We are not amending a 119 year old law, we are completely replacing lock, stock and barrel. So, I was not at all for an ordinance route. I was prepared, in fact, that if it did not pass in this session of parliament, it will come back in the winter session of parliament because we have a three week winter session and we will get it there. If it did not pass in the winter session, I'd actually reconciled myself to the fact that, that fate did not will that this new bill be passed in this session of parliament. But, I am glad that in this session, although the first two weeks were washed out, the last two weeks were very productive- the food security bill was passed, the land acquisition bill was passed, the manual scavenging prohibition bill was passed. So, a lot of legislative business actually took place.

Rupashree Nanda: My question is that did you feel nervous at some point that the bill might not make its way through Parliament, that it might not become a law? You have mentioned in your note to spokespersons that it has been promised, that every political party has made this promise for the last forty years?

Jairam Ramesh: I wasn't nervous but I was prepared for the worst - even exactly last Wednesday, we are talking today on a Wednesday - exactly one week ago the debate was supposed to be beginning in the Rajya Sabha at 11 o'clock. It didn't begin till 4.30 pm. I am sure from 11 am till 4.30 pm there were lots of tense moments whether the debate should actually take place? It finally started at 4.30 pm. And Rajya Sabha passed it at 11o'clock that very night. I wouldn't say nervous, but I suppose I was philosophical- if it had not passed, it had not passed, but I tried my best to ensure that it got passed both by Lok Sabha and by the Rajya Sabha. And I had to go back to the Lok Sabha the second time because the Rajya Sabha had four important amendments.

Rupashree Nanda: It was Shivraj Singh Chouhan's initiative but it came in a day after the bill had been passed in the Lok Sabha - so you did go out of your way to accommodate those amendments? Why was that? What were the political compulsions?

Jairam Ramesh: No, there were no political compulsions. You know, chief minister of a very important state came to me - after all he belongs to the BJP which is the principle opposition party- he spoke to me and he said look there are some concerns that some of these retrospective clause provisions would adversely affect irrigation projects.

Rupashree Nanda: But he could have made these suggestions earlier?

Jairam Ramesh: No, he did not. He had not seen it, probably not applied his mind to it. When the Lok Sabha had actually passed the bill, obviously, he got it studied by people and they told him that this could affect, this could affect, could affect irrigation projects- on going irrigation projects - all the irrigation projects that had been completed in the past. I think, it was (a) legitimate amendments and secondly (b) it brought us a lot of political good will. The BJP came on board in the Rajya Sabha, it could have been troublesome in the Rajya Sabha and all the other political parties also felt the irrigation deserved a special treatment because irrigation is crucial for agricultural prosperity.

Rupashree Nanda: It also sent out the signal that you gave to pressure from the BJP?

Jairam Ramesh: I don't mind giving in to pressure. I am in politics- politics is the art of give and take, politics is the art of compromise - I don't mind giving in to pressure if that pressure is legitimate, if there is a point in that pressure, if that pressure is coming in the aid of a good cause, I don't mind, I am not inflexible.

Rupashree Nanda: You gave in to pressure from the BJP?

Jairam Ramesh: I am not inflexible. I have to be accommodative?

Rupashree Nanda: You gave in to pressure from the BJP on this?

Jairam Ramesh: If you are looking for a headline that I gave in to pressure- sure I gave in to pressure, but I don't look at it that way. I look at it as being accommodative. Legislative business is exceedingly tricky - we have to reach out. We have not been able to get a lot of bills passed in parliament because we have not reached out. Unless, you reach out to people, accommodate everybody's concerns, as I said politics is give and take, politics is listening to the other person's point of view.

Rupashree Nanda: In a note you have circulated among your spokespersons, you are giving Rahul Gandhi the credit for the bill. You are saying that it was his visit to Bhatta, Parasaul and other places which set in motion processes that resulted in the bill - in a sense that was the catalyst for the bill. But the fact is that processes were set in motion much earlier- when CP Joshi was there, the bill was discussed even then?

Jairam Ramesh: Not just CP Joshi, when Raghuvansh Prasad Singh was the minister, there has been a long history but this particular bill is not the Vilasrao Deshmukh bill, it is not the CP Joshi bill, it is not the Raghuvansh Prasad Bill, this bill is completely different. This bill is one bill. Previous attempts were having two bills - one for land acquisition and the other for rehabilitation and resettlement. This bill amalgamate the two, integrates the two. This bill is both for land acquisition and for rehabilitation and resettlement.

Rupashree Nanda: My question is why are you giving credit to Rahul Gandhi for it then ? In your note to spokespersons, you are trying to hardsell the land bill to people and through it you are also trying to hard sell Rahul Gandhi?

Jairam Ramesh: So? Mr Gandhi is our leader. We have to hard sell both Mr Rahul Gandhi and Congress party. We are not an NGO. We are a political party - we have to go out, we have to project what we have done - project not in a bureaucratic language, or in bureaucratic terms but in political language and there's nothing wrong in taking credit for what we have done and giving it to our leaders. And let me say, Mr Rahul Gandhi played a very hands on role. There are specific areas in which Rahul Gandhi has contributed to the bill; Rahul Gandhi was of the idea that we should have one bill, he advocated that, he canvassed for that

Rupashree Nanda: That idea came from the NAC.

Jairam Ramesh: No - he also - good ideas can have multiple fathers. Paternity cannot be only one. The second good idea which we incorporated in the bill is that not only land owners should get compensation , but livelihood losers also. They should also get priority. And, third in my view is the most significant intervention he made which did not come from the NAC by the way, or from any other source, he changed the title of the bill completely. The original bill as I had to introduce was land Acquisition Bill 2011 and he changed it to Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement. Long title - but it is a title that reflects the rights based approach - the RTI, the Right to Education, Food Security and the Right to Compensation. While the 1894 legislation gave unfettered powers to the government - the philosophy of the 2013 legislation is to give fair and equitable compensation to land owners, sensitive and humane rehabilitation and resettlement to people who are displaced and then, land acquisition.

Rupashree Nanda: So you believe that the land bill has Rahul Gandhi's signature on it?

Jairam Ramesh: 100 per cent ... 100 per cent not just signature but from title downwards, it reflects his philosophy. It is not only his philosophy, it reflects the philosophy of the Congress party. The rights based approach that I talked about of which the RTI, MNREGS, the FRA, the RTE, the Food Security Act and in many ways the Land Acquisition bill can be called the Farmers' Security Act.

Rupashree Nanda: Somebody mentioned it in parliament?

Jairam Ramesh: A DMK member, Mr Ramalingam called it the farmer security act. I think it is very true.

Rupashree Nanda: How would you respond to critics who say that this law is going to make industrialization and urbanization more difficult. You have said that acquisition will become more difficult- coming at a time that it does when there is an economic slowdown is this the best time for the land law?

Jairam Ramesh: Well, if you want industrialization and urbanization, you should go and but the land. That's very simple. You should not use government power to acquire the land. In most countries in the world, land is bought; land is not acquired by the government. We have provided in this law, a new provision which is leasing which is not 'buying', which is not 'acquiring'. That also is an option you can consider. But, if you want the government to acquire the land, then the law will apply- enhanced compensation, four times in rural areas and two times in urban areas, essential R and R for those people who are displaced and, a certain procedure to be followed for acquisition for which timelines have been laid down in the Act.

Will the cost of land that is acquired go up? Answer is yes. Will the time taken for land acquisition go up - not necessarily if the time schedules are adhered to. Will land acquisition become more fair and equitable? Definitely yes. Will land acquisition become less arbitrary, less discretionary, less unilateral? Answer is yes. Will the value of land appreciation accrue to farmers- answer is yes.

Rupashree Nanda: Will Land Acquisition become more difficult?

Jairam Ramesh: Will land acquisition become more expensive, the answer is yes. What you are paying, you will pay four times more in rural areas and two times in urban areas. Right now, land acquisition is being done on terms which are highly detrimental to farmers. Farmers have become immeserized through a process of land acquisition - forcible land acquisition. Will forcible land acquisition take place under the new law? No. Will the urgency clause be used to acquire land? No. Will land be acquired for public purposes and given up for building high rise condominiums and malls? The answer is no. So it is mixed.

Rupashree Nanda: Coming at a time that it does, at a time of economic slowdown? Even during your tenure in the environment ministry you have been accused of following certain policies that have slowed down growth in the country.

Jairam Ramesh: I respond to accusations that have a certain intellectual merit so I don't want to get into this argument at all. But the fact of the matter is this bill has been in the works for two years, it came up in Parliament, Parliament passed it- that is all that is there to it. Every time is a good time.

Rupashree Nanda: Will it send the right signal to investors also?

Jairam Ramesh: It is sending the right signal to farmers, it is sending the right signal to landless labour, it is sending the right signal to tribals, it is sending the right signal to Dalits. And any bill that is in favour of farmers, tribals, landless and Dalits, in my view is in national interest.

Rupashree Nanda: Critics say that you had a chance to go beyond the principle of eminent domain - you could have struck it down. You yourself have gone on record saying that the government's record on land acquisition is far more worse than that of the private sector? So why did you not take that step?

Jairam Ramesh: I had to compromise. I am living in the real world. I had to take different interest groups along, different ministries along. As you yourself said there is need for industrialization - industrial corridors, railways, power projects, urbanisation - so there are multiple interest groups involved. I had to take everyone together. It is a compromised bill. It is not a bill that any section is going to be 100 per cent pleased with. It is a bill that takes into account the concerns of different sections and tries to harmonize. It is a 'middle path' bill as I described in parliament.

Rupashree Nanda: Will the land bill provide answers to conflicts around land?

Jairam Ramesh: 100 per cent. I think this bill is a response to the type of land conflicts that you saw in Singur, Bhatta, Parsaul and in some Maoist dominated districts. I think, if implemented in letter and spirit, this law will not only reduce land conflicts but also go a long way in dealing with Maoist challenge in central India- in Jharkhand, in Chhattisgarh, in Odisha, in parts of Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh.

Rupashree Nanda: You are taking the bill to the people. When you are going to hardsell the land bill to the aam aadmi and you will speak about Rahul's contribution in this particular law, your critics will point out, as Modi has pointed out already about Robert Vadra's land deals in Haryana - that this could blunt your campaign, that this is something that you have to answer for.

Jairam Ramesh: I don't think there is any linkage between Robert Vadra's so called land dealings and the land acquisition bills. I have just brought a land acquisition bill. As far as Mr Robert Vadra's dealings are concerned , I think the chief minister of Haryana has already responded to it.

Rupashree Nanda: There is a question mark over it- and in that sense when you are politically positioning-

Jairam Ramesh: This interview is on land acquisition not on Robert Vadra's land dealings because if you want to talk about Mr Vadra's land dealings, lets close this interview right now.

Rupashree Nanda: My final question - when you piloted this bill through so many years , two years - at the end of it was it personally satisfying for you? Is this what you are in politics for?

Jairam Ramesh: Well, I had the option of bringing in amendments the 1894 Act. The1894 Act was amended three times and we could have amended the 1894 act but the 1894 Act was deeply flawed. Because it was a colonial era law, because it gave unfettered rights to the government to acquire land. So to that extent, it is a matter of great satisfaction that I was able to pilot a bill that was not just amended but actually replaced an old law - and I hope we do not have to wait for another 119 years to have a new law. I have said that had I the freedom, I would have introduced the poison clause saying that within 20 years time, on the basis of experience of this law, you bring in a new land acquisition law if need be.

Rupashree Nanda: In your political career so far do you think that this has been one of the most fulfilling moments?

Jairam Ramesh: Well, I don't seem to have satisfied anybody because the progressives are unhappy with the bill, Medha Patkar is unhappy, the industrialists are unhappy- the CIIs, the FICCIS are unhappy. Maybe it is not satisfying because no section seems to be fully satisfied. To that extent I am satisfied that I have been able to weave a middle path. The NGT bill which I got through when I was in the Ministry for Environment and Forests was also a very important piece of legislation. But, I think this is far more significant, far more transformative because it responds to real issues in India - land conflict, farmer dissatisfaction, tribal discontent. These are all important social issues which we have tried to address through the medium of this legislation.

Rupashree Nanda: Mr Rahul Gandhi campaigned in UP during the last assembly elections. He went on padayatras, he went to many areas of conflict. But your dividends from that were very low - even in places like Rae Bareli and Amethi what makes you think that this time with this new law, you will be able to win over the voters?

Jairam Ramesh: Time alone will tell.

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