Flashback 2015: Land bill kept Rural Development Ministry in spotlight

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New Delhi, Dec 20: The contentious land bill issue kept the Rural Development Ministry in spotlight throughout this year with the government after a bitter of war of words with the Opposition was forced to withdraw amendments it had sought in the UPA's land law.

Though the land law was the most talked-about subject of the ministry, the issue was handled from a higher level in the government, frequently inviting barbs from the Opposition that Rural Development Minister Chaudhary Birender Singh was not kept in the loop.

Chaudhary Birender Singh

Other key decisions of the ministry in the year was release of Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) data, launching of Shyama Prasad Mukherji Rurban Mission (SPMRM) with an outlay of Rs 5,142.08 crore and additional 50 days work beyond the existing 100 days under MGNREGS in areas with drought or natural calamities.

In a key development, the government also brought forward the target date by three years from 2022 to 2019 to achieve complete rural connectivity through all-weather roads under Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY).

Bringing curtains down on the eight-month-long land bill controversy over deleting provisions like consent clause and social impact survey from the 2013, the government in August decided to leave the law regarding land acquisition to states and refrained from issuing an ordinance for the fourth consecutive time, which would have otherwise been a record.

The Joint Committee of Parliament headed by BJP MP S S Ahluwalia, examining the contentious issue sought many extensions and has decided to seek time till the Budget Session to submit its report. In 2013, UPA government passed Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (LARR) with Rahul Gandhi's prod almost a year before 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

It replaced a British period law of 1894. In December 2014, the NDA government brought an ordinance making significant changes in the UPA's land law removing key clauses of seeking farmers's consent acquiring land for five areas -- industrial corridors, PPP projects, rural infrastructure, affordable housing and defence and also did away with necessity of carrying out a social impact survey.

It led to an uproar and brought about a consolidation of Opposition parties. Congress, which was down in the dumps after an precedented debacle in Lok Sabha, chose the occasion to reach out to the farmers and the poor in a big way with Sonia Gandhi leading a march of a dozen parties to President Pranab Mukherjee.

It also organised a kisan rally at the historic Ram Lila Maidan on the issue. After fierce protests in and outside Parliament, the new bill replacing the ordinance was referred to a Parliamentary panel as Congress stonewalled it in Rajya Sabha, where government lacks majority.

Opposition tried to paint the government as "anti-farmer" while fault lines in NDA were also visible on the issue with three of BJP's allies -- Shiv Sena, SAD and Swabhimani Paksha -- red-flagging a number of provisions of the bill and seeking restoration of the consent and social impact assessment clauses. At least four RSS affiliates including Swadeshi Jagaran Manch also voiced their reservations. 

Ahead of Bihar assembly polls, government, apparently keeping in mind the potential fall out of any anti-farmer tag on it, decided not to push the issue too far. At a Niti Aayog meeting, some states also asserted that they should be allowed to frame land acquisition laws.

Giving up the ordinance route, government finally issued an order in August and extended the benefits being given to farmers under land acquisition act to acquisitions under 13 Acts as well. The Land Acquisition Act, 2013 had exempted these 13 acts for one year from implementing relief and rehabilitation conditions of the new land law for acquisition purposes.

That was done with a condition that they would be included under the purview of the act within one year. The NDA's ordinance brought these 13 acts under the new land law, a step which it later advocated as the reason for bringing the Ordinance.

The Opposition did not accept it. The way for possible climb down by the government was facilitated by all 11 BJP members moving amendments in the Parliamentary panel seeking to bring back key provisions of UPA's land law including on the consent clause and social impact assessment.

A number of other important decisions were also taken by the ministry during the period. The Ministry released data of the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) that enables the government in ranking households based on authentic information of their socio economic conditions.

In December, Cabinet approved some key changes in rural welfare programmes for a focused and targeted intervention in poverty reduction, expanding benefits of interest subvention under National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) to 100 more districts and flexibility in allocation to Himayat programme and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushal Yojana for skilling and placing more youth from poorer sections.

In October, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approved a proposal to implement the World Bank assisted National Watershed Management Project 'Neeranchal' with a total outlay of USD 357 million (Rs 2,142.30 crore).

In September, a decision was taken to provide additional 50 days of unskilled manual work in the financial year over and above 100 days assured to job card holders, in such rural areas where drought or natural calamities have been notified.

In an ambitious bid to transform rural areas to economically, socially and physically sustainable spaces, ministry also launched Shyama Prasad Mukherji Rurban Mission (SPMRM) with an outlay of Rs 5,142.08 crore.

It aims at development of rural growth clusters which have latent potential for growth, in all states and UTs.

PTI

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