PM Modi’s strategic climbdown on land bill in Mann ki Baat address portrays him as a democrat, not dictator

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August 30, 2015

NEW DELHI – The contentious ordinance on land acquisition will not be re-promulgated. It will now be allowed to lapse on 31 August.

In the 11th edition of his 'Mann ki Baat' Prime Minister Narendra Modi set a new precedent for himself and his government – make key policy announcements directly to the public.

August 30, 2015

NEW DELHI – The contentious ordinance on land acquisition will not be re-promulgated. It will now be allowed to lapse on 31 August.

In the 11th edition of his 'Mann ki Baat' Prime Minister Narendra Modi set a new precedent for himself and his government – make key policy announcements directly to the public.

While making this big declaration and adding that enhanced compensation benefits will be henceforth be given to farmers, he has sought to correct an anti-farmer perception about his government. The farmers whose land will be acquired in 13 other categories, were also exempt under various other Central laws as specified in UPA's 2013 Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (RFCTLARR).

Modi also set a new agenda for the Lalu Yadav-Nitish Kumar-Sonia Gandhi ahead of the combine's Swabhimaan rally in Patna, scheduled only two hours later.

The decision not to promulgate the ordinance on land acquisition for the third time is a big U-turn by the Modi government, and something that gives the Congress and other political rivals an opportunity to celebrate the beating of a retreat by the Centre. By choosing to make this announcement on the 'Mann ki Baat' platform, Modi has sought to give the impression that he is not dictatorial in his thoughts and action, something alleged repeatedly by his rivals.

The message that he is a democrat and his government which "has an open mind" was "willing to accept any suggestion for benefit of farmers", was made with a finger on the public pulse. This was also an admission and indication that his party and government had bungled on the subject and had the heart to admit it. It is also notable that he didn't attach any personal ego or prestige to this policy issue.

Modi suggested that the ordinance and consequent amendments in the land acquisition bill were carried out with a good intent and purpose, but since perception mattered most in politics and governance, he was taking a step or two back. At the same time, he didn't name the Congress for creating an impression "an atmosphere of confusion and fear" even though the suggestion for amendments had come from the states (including then Congress-ruled Haryana and Maharastra).

The reversal of a policy decision of this magnitude – where the entire leadership of the government and the party had put its collective prestige at stake – could not have been easy for Modi. Land acquisition was also considered to be a necessary component for fulfilling the development and job-oriented promises made by Modi in the run up to 2014 parliamentary elections.

By making a turnaround, he has faced criticism from business, industry and other related quarters that the government's reformist resolve was weakening. But under the prevalent circumstances, the BJP believes that this is a politically prudent move.

Modi has gone a step ahead in listing the compensation benefits in 13 other categories – an area that the 2013 Act had left open to correction at a future date. Prior to the 'Mann ki Baat' address, the Union Rural Development Ministry issued a notification saying "as per the provisions of article 123 of the Constitution, the RFCTLARR (Amendment) Second Ordinance, 2015 (5 of 2015) shall lapse on the 31st August, 2015, thereby placing the land owners at the disadvantageous position, resulting in denial of benefits of enhanced compensation and rehabilitation and resettlement to the cases of land acquisition under the 13 Acts specified in the Fourth Schedule to the RFCTLARR Act as extended to the land owners under the said Ordinance. Therefore, since the Central Government considers it necessary to extend the benefits available to the land owners under the RFCTLARR Act to similarly placed land owners whose lands are acquired under the 13 Central enactments specified in the Fourth Schedule, the Government has decided to uniformly apply the beneficial provisions of Section 105 of the RFCTLARR Act relating to the determination of compensation, rehabilitation and resettlement as were made applicable to cases of land acquisition under the said enactments in the interest of the land owners".

The 13 Central enactments in fourth schedule include the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, Atomic Energy Act, Damodar Valley Corporation Act, Indian Tramways Act, Land Acquisition (Mines) Act, Metro Railways (Construction of Works) Act, The National Highways Act, Petroleum and Minerals Pipelines (Acquisition of Right of User in Land) Act, Requisitioning and Acquisition of Immovable Property Act, Resettlement of Displaced Persons (Land Acquisition) Act, Coal Bearing Areas Acquisition and Development Act, Electricity Act and Railways Act.

He is also using this self-devised platform for reconciliation to address areas of social conflict such as the violence in Gujarat during the Patel reservation agitation which led to the loss of 10 lives and substantial damage to public and private property, and the lessons of love and harmony as enshrined in Sufi tradition. Youth, women, children and Clean India continued to be go-to areas in his 'Mann ki Baat'. The fact that he talked about Dengue-related hygiene concerns – dos and don'ts – portrays an attempt to reach out to all sections of society.

His announcement of the acquisition of two sites related to Dr BR Ambedkar – one in Mumbai and the other in London – for the purpose of building memorials in his name, is politically and socially significant. Modi and the BJP are wooing the Dalit community in Bihar and UP, as also in other parts of the country. And now, while he may have ceded ground on the land bill, he has given himself a new talking point while campaigning for the BJP in Bihar elections.


Courtesy: Firstpost