Land bill: Govt could opt for joint panel route in attempt to break logjam

NEW DELHI: The government is trying to break the deadlock over land acquisition bill by offering to set up a joint committee of the two Houses of Parliament for a fresh scrutiny of the contentious legislation that has been stalled by the opposition.

The government has already sounded out some of opposition parties about the fresh initiative which it can announce while moving the bill for discussion in Lok Sabha later in the week, sources said.

A joint committee is different from select committees in that it is tasked with submitting its report in the opening week of the next session of Parliament. As versus this, scrutiny by select committees can be an indefinitely long process — a route that the government is loathe to take because of its interest in early passage and which will thwart it from exercising the option of getting the bill passed in a joint sitting.

READ ALSO: Won’t allow land bill to pass in Parliament, Congress says

For the joint sitting to be convened on land bill, Rajya Sabha has to take a call either way and it cannot be held if the select committee decides to sit over it indefinitely. The month-long monsoon session of Parliament is expected to be convened by mid-July, giving the government enough time to push for the passage of the controversial bill, if necessary by convening a joint sitting.

The joint committee looks an appealing proposition also because it will have two-third of its members drawn from Lok Sabha, where BJP and its allies have a comfortable majority, and the rest from Rajya Sabha. Given that Lok Sabha has 543 members versus 243 in the Upper House, the government has reasons to be hopeful of a favourable report.

Strengths of joint committees, there have been 5-6 so far, have ranged between 30 and 60 members, with parties getting seats in proportion to their representation in the two Houses.

READ ALSO: Govt determined to push land bill despite opposition

There could be a hitch, though. Considering that it comprises members of both Houses, Rajya Sabha has to concur with the lower House for setting up a joint committee. However, government hopes to get around the problem by wooing non-UPA parties in the upper House which don’t have a major ideological quarrel with the land acquisition bill but are constrained not to support it for fear of being tarred “anti-farmer”.

Government sources feel these players, unlike Congress, may be more amenable to the suggestion of a scrutiny by a joint committee. In fact, initial response to the idea has been encouraging, sources said.

BJP will be happier if it manages to win over some opponents of the bill in Rajya Sabha, but the prospect looks tough because of the Modi government’s reluctance to make major concessions; especially to the demand that no acquisition should be allowed unless 80% of land owners have given their consent, and that acquisition must be preceded by a social impact assessment. However, it will celebrate even if the opponents stick to their stand in the joint committee for, given their superior numbers in Lok Sabha, the report will endorse the legislation, paving the way for a vote on it in Rajya Sabha.

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Similarly, they would not mind a defeat in Rajya Sabha in the monsoon session for it will clear the way for them to hold a joint sitting.

The fresh move shows the government’s resolve to secure passage of the land bill. Several in the ruling coalition had doubted the desirability of pressing ahead with the bill in view of its portrayal as an anti-farmer measure. However, plans for the joint committee show that it has decided to stay the course at least for now.

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