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Jairam Reverses Govt Stand; Oks NAC Guidelines

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As the Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh was known for taking the government head on over different contentious issues. On his first day as the Minister of Rural Development, Jairam Ramesh continued on this path when he reversed a stand taken by the rural development ministry last week on the Land Acquistion Bill.

Ramesh said on Wednesday that he has accepted the recommendations of the National Advisory Council, headed by Sonia Gandhi, on the Bill. The government had last week indicated that it would not accept several guidelines mooted by the NAC.  At that time, Vilasrao Deshmukh handled the Rural Development Ministry.

The Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC) had advocated 100 per cent acquisition by the government to ensure that farmers and other land dependants are not exploited by investors and brokers. NAC also wanted land acquisition and rehabilitation - so far handled via different bills - to be combined into one new Act.

Further, NAC also wanted land from farmers to be acquired at six times the market rate. The government had suggested that farmers should get at least 60 per cent more than the market rate for their land.

Mamata Banerjee, the most important UPA ally, on the other hand, had insisted that the government should have no role in land acquisition for private investors.

The draft finalised by the ministry last week had stuck to a near-middle path between NAC recommendations and the suggestions of Mamata Banerjee, the most important ally of the UPA governmenrt. The ministry last week had suggested the 70-30 formula under which the private investor was expected to buy at least 70 per cent of the required land directly from the people while the government could acquire the remaining 30 per cent.

Ramesh said a draft of the new bill will be placed online next week for feedback, and that the Bill will then be introduced in the monsoon session of Parliament which starts on August 1.

He also said a review of the achievements of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and completion of the census of families living below the poverty line would be among his key priorities.

"The BPL census was last held in 2002. We hope to complete it by the end of the year," Ramesh said a day after he was sworn in as rural development minister.

"We will also review the NREGA. We need to find out whether Rs 40,000 crore spent on it has benefited the people," he added.

Burning Midnight Oil
Jairam Ramesh had assumed charge of the new ministry immediately after taking oath as Cabinet Minister at the Rashtrapati Bhawan on Tuesday evening and flagged the land acquisition bill as his priority. He spent his first day as the rural development minister in extensive meetings with officials stretching well past midnight.

He held discussions with Ministers of State and senior officials on various issues and met two members of the National Advisory Council (NAC) which had recently made recommendations on the Land Acquisition Bill.

"We will soon put out a draft Bill for public debate by middle of next week. That was my approach in the Environment Ministry and it will be the same in Rural Development ministry," he said.

Ramesh said besides compensation to land owners, he felt that the issue of giving benefits to those whose livelihoods depend on the land to be acquired also needs to be addressed.

"It is not just compensation to land owners but more important issue is to compensate those whose livelihood depends on the land being acquired. This is the most important matter. Compensation is the second important issue," he said.

Ramesh said he held extensive meetings in the ministry till 1:00 A.M. and followed it up with more discussions on Wednesday morning.

"The purpose for which the land is being acquired -- whether it is for critical infrastructure or golf courses -- are important issues that have to be discussed," he said.

(With Agencies)


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