Singh Rescues India Land-for-Industry Bill With BJP Agreement

India’s government and opposition resolved differences over legislative changes to century-old laws on buying land for industry and roads, paving the way for parliamentary approval in the session which resumes next week.

“We have reached a broad consensus on the Land Acquisition Bill,” Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath told reporters in New Delhi today after a cross-party meeting. The bill will be taken for consideration when lawmakers meet from April 22, he said.

The bill has been fought over both within the ruling Congress party and since September 2011 in parliament, delaying ratification of a key plank of the government’s agenda. Protests, some of them deadly, over state-backed purchases of land at below-market rates for factories or highways have increased in frequency since 2007, triggering calls for greater compensation for farmers.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government wants to make it mandatory for companies buying land to win the approval of 80 percent of landholders. For public-private partnership projects, 70 percent of landowners need to give consent, according to the draft bill approved by the cabinet in December.

“I gave 12 suggestions and the government agreed to almost all of them,” Sushma Swaraj, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, told the NDTV 24x7 television channel. “We have told the government that when you acquire land, you should give 50 percent of the compensation to the original farmer. And the government has agreed to that.”

The government wants to rewrite the 1894 colonial-era Land Acquisition Act that allows the state to seize land at cheap rates if it believes there’s a larger public benefit, such as the creation of jobs.

Abuse of the rule led to clashes between farmers and provincial administrations, and fueled Maoist rebellions in some mineral-rich states, including Chhattisgarh and Odisha.

Singh’s government -- and Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi -- want to win approval for the legislation as they prepare for a general election scheduled for May next year.