March 29, 2015

We support progressive legislation, not the Land Bill which is draconian

Friends are asking if the Trinamool Congress is both batting and bowling in the same innings of the match in Parliament. Why did we support the Mines and Minerals Bill in Parliament, but strongly oppose the Land Acquisition Bill that seeks to amend the Act of 2013. Actually, we have been consistent. When a law is progressive and states-friendly, we will back it, irrespective of whether the law is framed by a BJP government or a Congress government.

In the case of the Mines and Minerals Bill, we were satisfied that suggestions made by Trinamool in the select committee were incorporated in the final draft. There were several parameters Trinamool used to judge the Bill.

First, local communities were invited as partners in development. Trinamool urged the government to facilitate the setting up of a District Mineral Foundation by state governments. This Foundation would incorporate tribal communities in the mining region and undo their sense of alienation and exploitation. The onus of the composition of the Foundation has been left to the state government. States have also been empowered to set up special courts for quick settlement for mining disputes.

Second, mining makes for windfall gains. It is important to retain these in the country, the state and the community. Here again the Trinamool government’s experience in West Bengal has proved a great learning. Using e-governance we have increased revenues by 87 per cent in the past three years. As such, we welcome the concept of e-auctions.

Of course, there is more that needs to be done. We have recommended that the rules that will complement the Bill should put in place a modern regulatory process for environmentally-friendly mining. We cannot repeat the mistakes of China. The need to bring in scientific and best-in-class technology practices and procedures for mining, using the mechanism of the National Mineral Exploration Trust, is also critical.

It is for these reasons that we supported the Mines and Minerals Bill. The amendments to the Land Acquisition Act are another matter. They make a bad act worse. Trinamool had steadfastly opposed the UPA’s land acquisition law. Now the NDA, by rushing through with an ordinance and refusing to let Parliament deliberate, debate and decide before such trigger-happy action, is making things that much more difficult for farmers and actual users and owners of the land.

The UPA law institutionalised rent-seeking – in the form of giving a blanket mandate, for change of land-use to government authorities. This one completely chips away at the farmer’s ability to make an informed and voluntary choice. The NDA government’s ordinance on the land acquisition law – now set to be re-issued after flagrantly ignoring the sentiments of Parliament and suddenly and unconscionably proroguing the Rajya Sabha – is draconian. It virtually legitimises forcible acquisition of land.

Trinamool will oppose this with all its might.

Derek O’Brien
Member of Parliament from Bengal
Trinamool Congress Parliamentary Party Leader (Rajya Sabha) & Chief National Spokesperson