Lok Sabha okays land bill amid opposition protests; Shiv Sena abstains from voting

The Lok Sabha on Tuesday passed the contentious land acquisition bill with nine amendments amid a walkout by opposition parties even as key ally Shiv Sena abstained from voting

New Delhi: The Lok Sabha on Tuesday passed the contentious land acquisition bill amid a walkout by opposition parties even as the government moved nine amendments to address concerns raised by farmers and civil society activists.

The proposed legislation removes the need for obtaining the consent of land-owners and carrying out Social Economic Assessment (SIA) for acquiring land under certain categories -- precisely the provisions which had raised the heckles of critics.

Rural Development Minister Birender Singh, who took potshots at the Congress, his former party, moved nine amendments, which were adopted by voice vote.

Two fresh clauses were also added to the bill, which will now be taken up by the Rajya Sabha where the government is in minority.

The Congress, which had moved a number of amendments -- all were negated -- demanded that the bill be sent to the Standing Committee. When this was not accepted, its members walked out even before the voting. CPI-M, CPI and Samajwadi Party members did the same.

"They have not accepted even a single amendment proposed by us. This bill is anti-farmer. So we are walking out," said Congress leader of the house Mallikarjun Kharge.

The Biju Janata Dal, which withdrew the amendments moved by its members, also walked out minutes before the voting.

The Right to Fair Compensation, Rehabilitation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2015 faces a tough call in the Rajya Sabha.

Opposition leaders in the upper house have already hinted that they would try and send the bill to a Standing or Select Committee.

The government has an option of calling a joint session of both houses to pass the bill, which the opposition says favours corporates at the cost of farmers whose land will be taken away for business and infrastructure projects.

The bill replaces an ordinance promulgated by the government in December last year which amended the earlier law passed by the Congress-led UPA in 2013.

Civil society and farmers' organisations staged a major protest here in the last week of February against the bill.

Apart from the Congress, the Trinamool Congress and the Communist Party of India-Marxist also demanded that the bill be sent to the Standing Committee. But this was voted out.

The nine amendments proposed included one that the government shall undertake a survey of its wasteland, including arid land, and maintain a record containing details of such land.

One amendment said land shall be acquired up to only one km on both sides of designated railway lines or roads for industrial corridors.

Hitting out at the opposition, mainly the Congress, Birender Singh said certain parties opposing the land bill have been selective while espousing farmers' causes.

Amid uproar by opposition parties, he said: "You don't have the courage to say the right things."

"When farmers are being looted in Haryana, then it doesn't matter," he said, in an apparent refernce to the time when the state was ruled by the Congress. "This can't go on."

"The party which has created the biggest ruckus over this bill ruled the country for nearly 50 years. During this time, the number of people dependent on agriculture went down from 70-80 percent to 60 percent," he said replying to the nearly eight-hour-long debate in the lower house.

BJP member Prahlad Singh Patel earlier said: "Whatever issues were there, we have corrected it with amendments. We should all ensure that poor farmers don't lose anything."

Gaurav Gogoi of the Congress said the bill passed in 2013 ensured equal rights to everyone.

"If there was anybody who was walking shoulder to shoulder with farmers, it was Rahul Gandhi... You sacrificed farmers' interests for corporates. The amendments are just cosmetic changes."

BJP fails to rally entire NDA on Land Bill

The ruling BJP today failed to rally the entire NDA behind it for the passage of the contentious Land Bill in Lok Sabha as key ally Shiv Sena abstained while one-member Swabhimani Paksha went to the extent of moving an amendment.

However, the Narendra Modi government succeeded in bringing around Akali Dal, which had earlier expressed reservations against the bill.

After Shiv Sena abstained during voting on the Land Acquisition Bill in Lok Sabha tonight, a senior party leader said it may also abstain from voting in the Rajya Sabha where the BJP-led NDA is woefully short of numbers.

Sena has 18 members, next only to BJP in NDA, in the Lower House but only three members in the Upper House. It is also a partner in Maharashtra government led by BJP.

Sena's decision is significant at a time when almost the entire opposition is ranged against the controversial legislation which the Congress and other parties are accusing the bill of being "pro-corporate" and "anti-farmer".

Reports had it that Union Minister Nitin Gadkari and also Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadanvis had reached out to the Sena leadership in a bid to seek its support.

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