New Delhi: Union minister Nitin Gadkari has hit back at Congress president Sonia Gandhi on the land bill issue, accusing her of “misleading” the country and alleging that UPA government’s policies had resulted in unemployment and farmer suicides.
Responding to a letter by Sonia Gandhi, Gadkari, who is a key government point person on the controversial bill, said on Monday that not a single acre of land was acquired under the land acquisition law brought out by the UPA for irrigation and other rural and social infrastructure projects and farmers remained dependent on rains all the time.
In her letter to Gadkari, the Congress chief had rejected his offer for a dialogue, saying it was a “mockery” as the BJP regime had unilaterally imposed the land ordinance.
Dubbing the bill as anti-farmer, she had accused the government of “bending over backwards” to favour industrialists.
Replying to criticism over the move to keep various projects out of the purview of social impact assessment, Gadkari said, “The UPA government willingly created a system in which big land acquisition projects were out of the assessment while welfare projects run by state governments were mired in it.”
“Under your land law, government and private firms which are allocated coal blocks can acquire thousands of acres of land with doing social impact assessment but states would have to go through this complex exercise if they need one acre of land for a school or hospital and rural road.
“Will it be proper? The Maharashtra Chief Minister belonging to your party had then sought that such a bill be studied by a group of chief ministers. But UPA did not find it appropriate to evolve a consensus among its own CMs,” Gadkari said in his letter.
The amendments brought out by the Modi government were in line with the suggestions which were made by chief ministers during a consultation exercise on 27 June, 2014, he said.
“In your letter, you have tried to mislead the country over the Electricity Act 2003 as well,” he said.
Gadkari challenged Sonia Gandhi for an open debate over the issue, saying democracy demands debate over welfare measures and people should not shy away from it.
He also rubbished the Congress president’s criticism of the land bill for doing away with the requirement of returning the acquired land to its original owner after five years if the project did not take off in this period and said such a provision will impair irrigation and residential schemes.
“Congress governments in Maharashtra, Haryana and Assam had submitted that such a provision would derail irrigation schemes and housing projects for the poor as they take longer than five years for completion.
“Sonia ji, due to the policies of your government farmers always depended on rains and kept waiting for official relief. We have not done away with social impact assessment but given states the right for it,” Mr Gadkari wrote to Mrs Gandhi, arguing that most land acquisition done by states is for irrigation.
Citing agricultural production in Punjab, he said farmers in other states can benefit only by irrigation schemes for which land is required and accused Mrs Gandhi of speaking “half-truth” on the issue.
Against a national average of 48.3 percent, over 98 percent of cultivated land area is under irrigation in Punjab whose productivity is also twice to the national average, he said.
Attacking the Congress chief, Gadkari said the country remained backward and development came to a standstill during UPA’s 10-year rule. “There was no electricity in villages and water in farms, forcing many farmers to commit suicide.”
Quoting a study of the erstwhile Planning Commission, he alleged that her government spent the money, meant for road, power and irrigation projects, on populist measures to “lure” voters.
“Your government came out with subsidy programmes to get votes of farmers and rural youth. Our government’s law is in the interest of villages, poor, farmers and labourers,” he said, rejecting the charge the land bill was anti-farmer.
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