Smt. Sonia Gandhi’s letter to Shri Nitin Gadkari: Slams Narendra Modi government in reply

In18 sonia 1689556f Wed, 15 Apr 2015

Smt. Sonia Gandhi’s letter to Shri Nitin Gadkari: Slams Narendra Modi government in reply

The NDA Minister of Road Transport and Highway Shri Nitin Gadkari had written to Congress President, Smt. Sonia Gandhi, leaders of other opposition parties and social activist Anna Hazare inviting them to an open debate on the issue while asserting that the bill was “very much in farmers’ interest”. In reply to him Congress President Smt. Sonia Gandhi alleging that it is now being widely recognised that the NDA government is “blatantly anti-farmer and anti-poor”, She also said that it is “compromising the rights of the weaker sections of society to benefit a handful of private parties”. Following is the text of the letter of Smt. Sonia Gandhi to Shri Nitin Gadkari I am in receipt of your letter dated March 19, 2015. Quite frankly, I was amazed at its unabashed display of half-truths and misrepresentations. I should not, of course, be surprised because this is typical of your government when it runs out of logical and convincing arguments. 

In your letter you have sought to justify the changes you propose in the land acquisition legislation on the grounds that it promotes the interest of villages, the poor, farmers and labourers, and that it facilitates irrigation, employment, industrial corridors and the industry. Your arguments are designed to suggest that this is a new contribution that the Narendra Modi government is making, in contrast with the record of the UPA government, and that those opposing your legislation are being anti-farmer and anti-national. Regrettably, all that you have said is without any foundation whatsoever. The UPA’s and Congress Party’s record on all these issues is second to none. 

And, it is now being widely recognized that your government is blatantly anti-farmer and anti-poor, compromising the rights of the weaker sections of society to benefit a handful of private parties. Let me start with the fundamental differences we have with you. 

1. The 2013 law stipulated that the Social impact Assessment (SIA) of any land to be acquired had to be completed within six months. You have completely done away with this requirement. Is this in the interest of farmers? The SIA is important so that 

(i) public purpose of the proposed acquisition is clearly established; 

(ii) no diversion of acquired land from stated purpose will take place; 

(iii) land in excess of actual requirement will not be acquired; 

(iv) multicropped irrigated land will only be acquired as a demonstrable last resort; and 

(v) people losing livelihood and others untitled to compensation would be identified. 

2. The 2013 law required that 80% of the farmers give consent in acquisition for private companies and 70% for PPP projects. But you have done away with this consent requirement altogether except for a few insignificant cases. Is this in the interest of farmers? 

3. The 2013 law said that land would be acquired for industrial corridors alone. But you now want land for industrial corridors plus additional land up to one kilometer on both sides of the corridor. Is this in the interest of farmers or to benefit private vested interests? 

4. Under the 2013 law, those whose lands were being acquired under the 1894 Act and who hadn’t accepted the compensation or whose lands had not been taken possession of, would get enhanced compensation. By amending this provision and adding another qualification you have disqualified lakhs of farmers who would have got enhanced benefits under the 2013 law. In this process you have also gone against recent judgments of the Supreme Court. Is this how you protect the interests of farmers? 

5. In the 2013 law, land that had not been utilized for a period of five years was to be returned to the original owners. But you have now allowed the acquirer to hold the land virtually for as long as desired. Is this in the interest of farmers? Let me also point out that your government’s attempt to take credit for enhanced compensation and Rehabilitation and Resettlement (R&R) benefits for 13 laws that are in the Fourth Schedule of the 2013 Act is completely ill- founded. The fact is that Section 105(3) of the 2013 Act mandates that within one year of its coming into force, these 13 laws had to be amended to provide for enhanced compensation and R&R benefits at par with the new land acquisition law. 

After assuming office your government had no choice but to make these amendments. Further, you have used these mandated amendments as a cover to push through other changes mentioned above that significantly dilute the 2013 law. Your attitude to these matters and your proposed legislation make a mockery of your claim that you stand for the interest of farmers. Let me turn to some other digressions in your letter. While doing so, let me remind you that government projects do not require consent under the 2013 law. Your government’s position on defence, irrigation and electrification issues is a blatant attempt to divert attention from your anti-farmer amendments. There can be no two opinions that the country absolutely needs to enhance its irrigation potential, build more indigenous defence factories and further improve rural infrastructure. But this cannot be at the cost of pushing farmers into a pitiable condition or destroying their livelihoods. 

In the 2013 Act these issues were actively dealt with in order to facilitate rural infrastructure and defence industry, without sacrificing the interest of farmers. Let me point out that Section 40 of the 2013 Act (the ‘urgency clause’) specifically exempts defence and national security projects from both the consent and Social Impact Assessment. 

Because of this, the Standing Committee headed by no less a person than Smt. Sumitra Mahajan, had pointed out that there is no need to put the Defence of India Act (and other allied legislations) in the exempted legislation list (the Fourth Schedule), a view that was also endorsed by the Ministry of Defence. As for irrigation projects, the 2013 law specifically exempted them from the social impact assessment (Section 4) when the environmental impact assessment had already been carried out. You have also raised the issue of projects related to electrification. The Electricity Act 2003 is already in the Fourth Schedule of the 2013 law which provides for an exemption from both consent and social impact assessment. Even you must recognize that all this makes your claim that the 2013 law is a hindrance to national security and the promotion of irrigation and rural development completely baseless and untenable. 

As far as industrial corridors are concerned, I fail to understand why your government has amended the 2013 Act to acquire a kilometer of land on either side of the corridor. This will in no way help the corridor project, but will allow private parties to make huge profits at the cost of the original land owners. Such flagship initiatives of the UPA government as the Amritsar-Kolkata and Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridors have been designed to be completed under the ambit of the 2013 law, without having to acquire a kilometer of land on either side of the corridor. As for creating employment, I must also point out that the 2013 law already had multiple benefits for agricultural laborers and other affected families, one of which was mandatory employment (Item 4, Schedule II). The fact that you claim this to be a recent addition is misleading. Unfortunately, your letter is full of such untenable claims that are at variance with the facts. 

As another example of this, you say the R&R (Rehabilitation and Resettlement) provisions are at the heart of the 2013 law. This is correct. But let me remind you that it was the Congress-led UPA that took the leadership and initiative to make R&R an integral part of the land acquisition law. I firmly believe that land acquisition and R&R must be part of the same legislation since they are two sides of the same coin. In addition, the 2013 law also had provisions to penalize officers who do not treat compliance with it with seriousness. But in your amendments you have now allowed the government to decide who should be prosecuted and who should not among those very officers who violate the law. 

The overall reality is that the amendments brought forward by this government negate the 2013 law in letter and spirit. The 2013 Law was formulated on the premise of an extensive debate and consensus. Every possible scenario of land acquisition was discussed threadbare, including the issues you have raised in your letter -- irrigation, defence, electricity and industrial corridors - and the bill was passed by Parliament only after all relevant stakeholders, including your party, were satisfied. In contrast, the amendments you have brought to this law have completely bypassed any debate or discussion. Your proposition for a debate after the government has unilaterally imposed an anti-farmer law is a mockery of the tradition of building bipartisan consensus before introducing laws of national importance. 

I wish to reiterate that the 2013 law is not a legacy of just the Congress party. It is a legacy of all parties - including the BJP - which gave their suggestions and came together for a landmark legislation to give primacy to the interests of farmers and labourers. This explains why opposition to this amended legislation comes not just from the Congress and the like-minded parties, but also from constituents of the NDA. Farmers are the backbone of our country, and it is imperative that their interests be protected at any cost. 

This is nonnegotiable for the Congress party. We shall never endorse any law that will break the backbone of this nation. I therefore urge you to rise above the realm of narrow partisan politics and bring back the 2013 law in totality, consistent with the sentiments and aspirations of our farmer brothers and sisters.