Heat over land bill as opposition, Kejriwal slam 'anti-farmer' bill

New Delhi: The NDA government faced strident criticism over the land acquisition bill introduced in the Lok Sabha Tuesday, with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal joining Gandhian activist Anna Hazare in slamming the "anti-farmer" legislation and demanding its withdrawal.

Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked BJP MPs to strongly defend the bill, the government appeared ready to listen to concerns of farmers over the legislation. The Rajya Sabha witnessed a ruckus as opposition members demanded a discussion on the bill, leading to suspension of business of the house.

In a related development, farmer leaders from across the country met Home Minister Rajnath Singh to voice their concerns over the land acquisition ordinance, which was promulgated by the Narendra Modi government Dec 30 last year.

The farmer leaders presented their demands to Singh, and asked the government to keep the land acquisition process "simple and farmer-friendly". They said the minister assured them he would look into their concerns and the government would soon hold a meeting in this regard.

Parliament was witness to noisy scenes over the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill 2015, introduced in the lower house. Once passed, it will replace the land ordinance.

In a bid to mollify the opposition, the BJP et up an eight-member committee of party MPs, headed by former union minister Satyapal Malik, to seek to hold discussions with farmers and other organisations on the matter. Modi meanwhile, addressing the BJP parliamentary party meeting Tuesday morning, told the MPs that the land acquisition bill will work in favour of farmers and asked them to aggressively defend it, sources said.

At the Jantar Mantar, Kejriwal joined anti-corruption activist Hazare in his agitation against the bill, saying he will not allow the central government to forcibly take land away from anyone in the national capital under the land acquisition law.

Addressing a crowd of protestors, Kejriwal said: "We will use all our force to ensure that land is not taken away forcibly from anyone in Delhi." He noted that land is a subject that comes under the purview of the central government but his government would still make all the necessary efforts to protect the poor.

Hazare, who led an anti-corruption movement against the previous UPA government, has termed the bill as "undemocratic" and demanded its withdrawal. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, speaking in Patna, hit out against the bill and termed it against the interests of farmers.

"We are opposed to the bill and there is no question of supporting it," he said, adding his party along with other like-minded parties would not allow the bill to be passed in parliament without a proper discussion while accusing the Modi government of working against the interests of farmers to benefit industrialists.

In the Rajya Sabha, the opposition alleged that the government was trying to bypass parliament on the bill, while the government denied it. "We have given a notice. The whole country is agitated against the ordinance, there are protests going on in Delhi," said Samajwadi Party's Naresh Agarwal.

Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien urged the members to discuss the matter when the measure comes to the house. "Ordinance has to be replaced by bill. When the bill comes, you can discuss." Congress Deputy Leader Anand Sharma alleged the government was trying to bypass parliament through an ordinance.

"We can't accept that the government will govern through ordinances overriding the legislative scrutiny of parliament," he said. Leader of the House and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, however, said it was unfair to say the government was bypassing parliament.

"No law can bypass the house. My friend should remember 636 ordinances have come and 80 percent of them came when Anand Sharma's party was in government," he said. As Kurien appeared ready to let the members speak on the issue, Jaitley maintained that the discussion should be held only when the bill comes to the house but the chair said there was no harm in members expressing their views.

Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati, Samajwadi Party's Ram Gopal Yadav, Trinamool Congress leader Derek O'Brien and Communist Party of India leader D. Raja attacked the government on the bill. Meanwhile, Congress spokesman Randeep Singh Surjewala claimed that the government is intending to call joint sittings of both houses to pass the bill but his party would oppose the bill "on the floor of the house".

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