Article published August 30, 2013, on NY Times Blog, By VISHNU VARMA
NEW DELHI— In the footsteps of the passage of the food security bill earlier this week, India’s lower house of Parliament, the Lok Sabha, passed the populist land acquisition bill on Thursday with an overwhelming majority.
The bill, officially known as “The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2012,” aims to provide farmers with fair and reasonable compensation and to prevent the forcible acquisition of agricultural land without the consent of the landowner.
Considered the brainchild of the Congress Party’s vice president, Rahul Gandhi, the bill would supersede the colonial-era Land Acquisition Act of 1894 if it passes the upper house of the Parliament, or Rajya Sabha, as expected next week.
With the passage of the bill in the Lok Sabha on a 216-to-19 vote, the ruling Congress Party will now look to garner a large number of rural votes ahead of national elections in 2014.
“The land acquisition bill will give farmers justice and provide them with the remuneration they deserve,” Kamal Nath, parliamentary affairs minister, told reporters.
The bill entails a compensation package that proposes to offer the farmers four times the market value of the land in rural areas and twice the market value of the same in urban areas. It also specifies that consent of 80 percent of the landowners is mandatory for private projects, while for public-private-partnership projects, 70 percent consent is required.
Even though allies like the Samajwadi Party criticized the government in the debate that preceded the voting on the bill, they went on to vote for the bill with amendments.
“Land acquisition is a highly sensitive issue,” said Rajnath Singh, president of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P., in Parliament. “I request the minister to ensure that all the amendments moved by the opposition be enshrined in the bill.”
While some of the amendments moved by the B.J.P. were passed, the others were defeated and withdrawn on the floor of the Parliament. An amendment moved by the leader of the opposition Sushma Swaraj, which was later passed, suggested that land could be leased to the developers so that the original ownership of the land would still remain with the farmers.
The debate and subsequent passage of the bill in the lower house of Parliament comes in the wake of widespread violent confrontations between farmers and developers in the country. A protest by farmers in Bhatta Parsaul village on the outskirts of Delhi in 2011 led to a prolonged exchange of gunfire between police and villagers, claiming the lives of two civilians and two police officers.
Protests over land acquisitions have also in the past been indirectly responsible for the fall of governments. A 34-year-old Communist government was voted out of power in the eastern state of West Bengal in May, 2011 after farmers in Singur, a town in the state’s Hooghly district, staged a huge rally against the government’s acquisition of land on behalf of Tata Motors. The demonstrations were led by Mamata Banerjee, the current chief minister of West Bengal.
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The photo to illustrate the article has been made by Lee Tucker, and is used under the Creative Commons License.