Mann Ki Baat: PM Modi mounts a great defence of Land Bill, but at exactly the wrong time

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March 22, 2015

NEW DELHI, INDIA – "We hoped he would speak about the imapct of the unseasonal rains but he instead didn't speak about that at all."

The farmer CNN-IBN spoke to after Prime Minister's Mann ki Baat on Sunday may not have been completely accurate, but it summed up what was wrong the Narendra Modi's radio address to the nation.

March 22, 2015

NEW DELHI, INDIA – "We hoped he would speak about the imapct of the unseasonal rains but he instead didn't speak about that at all."

The farmer CNN-IBN spoke to after Prime Minister's Mann ki Baat on Sunday may not have been completely accurate, but it summed up what was wrong the Narendra Modi's radio address to the nation.

The Prime Minister started off his address on a sympathetic note by saying that the government would do everything it could along with state governments to provide relief to farmers. He spoke about the plight of the small farmers, the co-ordination between the Centre and the states and how his ministers were travelling to assess the damage, but then quickly switched tracks to talk about the real reason for the radio address: the Land Bill.

Modi said that the government had decided to modify the Land Bill passed by the UPA government in 2013 after noting the shortcomings of the law and the fact that none of the states in the country had enacted the law despite the fact that it had been cleared by the central government.

"Shall I tell you about the biggest lacuna in the 2013 bill? You too will be surprised at knowing it… Those who are going around as sympathizers of farmers and making speeches are not answering this question," Modi said.

The Prime Minister said the "biggest lacuna" in the 2013 Act was that 13 areas of government activity, like railways, national

highways and mining, for which maximum land is acquired, were kept out of its ambit, meaning that compensation for acquiring land for these purposes would be paid on the basis of the 120-year-old law.

"Tell me, isn't it a lacuna? Isn't it a mistake?…We corrected this and in the new bill, these activities have been covered and as a result, four-time compensation will be given for the land acquired," he said.

The Prime Minister then proceeded to justify the ordinance and the subsequent bill taking up every clause that his critics have highlighted as flaws. Social Impact Assessment done away? To protect farmers from red tape.

Consent? No, no one can take your land without consent, the Prime Minister said.

Ok, consent may have been taken away for public-private partnership projects, but they're finally public projects that are being done for public good.

"Tell me brothers and sisters, do we want the children of our farmers be compelled to settle in the slums of Mumbai and Delhi," he said, making a case for industrialization in rural areas.

The Prime Minister also emphasized multiple times that the Land Bill wouldn't benefit corporates. He spoke of how farmer's interests would be safeguarded and how industrial corridors would provide employment to farmers' children so that all of them wouldn't remain reliant on agriculture.

"I say today as well that for corporates and private industry the consent clause is there, it's there, it's there," he said.

Then there were the barbs.

"Those projecting themselves as sympathizers of farmers and undertaking protests" have been using a 120-year-old law to acquire farm land for over 60-65 years after Independence and were now targeting his government which is "trying to improve upon the Act of 2013", Modi said.

Another one was where the Prime Minister said that "those who sat in air-conditioned rooms" to make laws didn't know the reality that farmers faced.

In defending the Land Bill, the subject of much debate since the ordinance was passed by the government, the Prime Minister did a commendable job. He defended every clause that critics and political opponents have attacked. He use folksy stories about two villages to buttress his point on public-private partnerships, but neatly sidestepped the criticism that the model of executing projects itself has faced in the past.

It does the Prime Minister little good to defend the legislation at a time when Parliament has gone off on a month-long break only to return on 20 April. The impact of his message is unlikely to last as long given the opponents to the bill have shown no signs of toning down their opposition to it. The Prime Minister may have struck a conciliatory note seeking suggestions from opponents to the bill so that they may be considered, but is unlikely to get any from his political opponents who have shown little interest in engaging with the government over the legislation. For the Congress and other regional parties that stand in opposition to the bill, there is no backing down any time soon and unlike with the Mines and Coals Bill, the BJP is unlikely to get opponents of the bill to break ranks.

The Prime Minister may also be seeking to break the back of protests organized by other groups like Anna Hazare and farmers' groups, including those backed by the RSS, but even those are unlikely to be dissipated in any way by a radio address.

But the biggest flaw of his address was the timing, which couldn't have been worse. At a time the nation's farmers are reeling from crop loss worth crores, and even political rivals like Sonia Gandhi meet with farmers to express sympathy, his timing on a bill that deals with them selling off their land may have not been ideally timed. Unseasonal rains are said to have damaged 2.7 million hectares of farmland, the rabi crop of farmers across vast tracts has been damaged and food prices could rise as a result. At such a time, attempting to impress them with how the Land Bill will do them good, instead of specifics on how he plans to deal with the problem, may not win him too many fans.

The Prime Minister may have finally decided to attack the critics of one of his government's pet economic legislations and in the past has used the radio address well to push the cause of the government when it was on the ropes. However, this time while his defence was good, as the farmer in Nashik pointed out, his timing could have been better.


Courtesy:  Firstpost