New Delhi: Days before the first half of Budget session comes to an end, a Parliamentary panel will sit on Monday to discuss the controversial land acquisition bill of 2015 through which the NDA government sought to make key alterations in UPA's 2013 land law but later changed its mind.
The Joint Committee on the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Second Amendment) Bill 2015, headed by BJP MP SS Ahluwalia will take a view on the remaining clauses of the bill.
The government is hopeful that a consensus will emerge on all issues related to the bill. The committee has already been given at least five extensions.
In November last year, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had hoped for "some consensus" on the legislation.
The panel had on 16 December decided to seek a fresh extension of its term till the beginning of the Budget session as only a few states had by then tendered their response to various clauses of the bill.
At the panel's meeting on 3 August last year, BJP had agreed to bring back the key provisions of UPA's land law including the ones on consent clause and social impact assessment and drop controversial amendments brought by the Narendra Modi Government in December last year through an ordinance.
All the 11 BJP members on the Parliamentary panel had then moved amendments seeking to bring back social impact assesment and consent clause.
However, the committee could not take a view on three key provisions including the one on return of unutilised land to its owners after five years.
At the 10 August meeting last year, a sharp exchange of words had taken place between BJP and Congress members as the latter were opposed to any changes in the retrospective clause of the bill dealing with compensation of land acquired under the 1894 Act, which was replaced by the 2013 law passed by the UPA government.
The committee is likely to take a view on these remaining points besides taking up some new issues that might have cropped up.
The panel members have already been circulated the replies received from the state governments and Union Territory administrations besides various ministries and departments of the central government regarding land acquisition proceedings initiated under Land Acquisition Act, 1894 and the status of land acquisition proceedings that have lapsed or may lapse in terms of Section 24(2) of RFCTLARR, 2013.
The 10 August meeting last year was expected to evolve a consensus on the remaining three key provisions including the one on return of unutilised land to its owners after five years and the retrospective clause.
However, only the retrospective clause was taken up briefly during which the Congress members vociferiously opposed any change in provision 24 (2) of the UPA Act, which has been diluted in the NDA bill. Other issues like the provision on returning unutilised land and period of review could not be taken up.
The UPA law stated the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 will continue to apply where an award has already been made. However, if such an award was made five years or more before the enactment of The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Act, 2013 and physical possession of land had not been taken or compensation not paid, the UPA law will apply.
The NDA bill prescribed that in calculating this time, any period during which the proceedings of acquisition were held up due to a stay order of a court, or a period specified in the award of a Tribunal for taking possession, or any period where possession has been taken but compensation is lying deposited in a court or any account, will not be counted.
It basically amended Section 24(2) to exclude time spent under litigation where a stay order has been passed.
The issue of section 24(2) was widely debated at the meeting of the panel on 27 July last year as well.
The government had then told the meeting that states like Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Goa, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal, besides Chandigarh objected to section 24(2) of the Act and wanted it modified.
Facing stiff resistance from opposition parties, NDA constituents, RSS affiliates and farmers' organisations, the government had finally decided in August last year not to promulgate the controversial ordinance for the fourth time.
Giving up the ordinance route, the government had on August 28 issued a statutory order to include 13 central acts like National Highway and Railways acts to extend benefits to those whose land is acquired under the law.
The Land Acquisition Act, 2013 had exempted 13 acts from its purview with the condition that they would be brought within the ambit of the act within one year. The NDA's ordinance brought in December 2014 these 13 acts under the new land bill.
At the same it also also made significant changes in the Land Acquisition Act 2013 including removal of consent clause for acquiring land for five categories — industrial corridors, PPP projects, rural infrastructure, affordable housing and defence.
It had led to widespread protests from Opposition parties and farmers organization.
A number of Chief Ministers had, during a meeting of NITI Aayog last year, expressed the desire to enact separate land acquisition laws according to their needs, to which the Centre agreed.
The ordinance had lapsed on 31 August after the government decided against repromulgating it for the fourth time. The way for a climbdown by the government was facilitated by BJP members moving amendments to bring back key provisions of UPA's land law, including the consent clause and social impact assessment by dropping the changes brought in by the Modi government in December 2013 and subsequently revalidated by successive ordinances thrice.