Prime minister Narendra Modi may have failed to break the opposition unity in the Rajya Sabha, vital to pass the land Bill, but he has done well to devote the larger part of his radio talk—Mann ki baat—to farmers on this on Sunday. It is difficult to get anyone to part with their land, so it is not certain if the 31-minute talk will change how farmers look at land acquisition, but the prime minister did well to take each major issue raised by the Opposition and to then put it in perspective. To begin with, since a major criticism of the Budget as well as the land Bill has been that they are pro-corporate, Modi pointed out that as none of the provisions of the UPA’s 2013 land Act had been changed—private purchase still has to go through compensation and R&R formalities, subject to a certain ceiling to be decided by different states—there was no question of any land being got for the private sector through what his government was planning. As for compensation, the other big issue, he said the NDA had added 13 sectors like highways and railways to the UPA’s land Act, for which a higher compensation will have to be given—these, he told farmers, comprised the major share of land acquisition. Indeed, he pointed out, when UPA states like Haryana and Maharashtra implemented the UPA’s land Act, they reduced the compensation for farmers from a possible 4 times the land value to just 2 times the land value—who is anti-farmer, he asked rhetorically.
The prime minister then went on to address the issue of the farmers not being given the right to consent under the NDA’s Act. It was not as if, he pointed out, farmers had the right to not give their land when it was being acquired for building highways or laying railway tracks by the UPA government—there were 11 more such sectors which were exempted by the UPA from the provisions its own land Act. While that doesn’t make it any better for the farmers, Modi pointed out that it was unlikely any farmer was going to give up his land voluntarily even if it was for the common good. If a canal or a road needs to be extended from one village to another, who will want to give up the land—but it is vital to get the land to connect the next village. While it remains unclear whether the land Bill will get passed anytime soon, it is clear from the prime minister’s talk that the government remains committed to not diluting it any further. Also, given the manner in which states have got a lot more financial muscle under the NDA, from the finance commission funds-transfer to the coal auctions and money under the mines Act, the government has managed to get non-NDA parties like the TMC to support some of its Bills. That augurs well for the GST Bill as well as others, even if the fate of the land Bill is unclear right now.