Birender Singh, 69, accused the Congress of blocking the new land acquisition bill only for political considerations as it touches 70 percent of population.
He said Congress-led United Progress Alliance (UPA) government got the land bill passed in 2013 "in a hurry" with over 50 "drafting errors" as it wanted to reap benefits of the legislation in last year's Lok Sabha elections.
Enumerating benefits of the new bill which has been dubbed as "anti-farmer" by Congress and some opposition parties, Birender Singh said its enabling provisions will give boost to infrastructure, manufacturing and employment.
The bill enables the state governments to take "situation-specific steps" for development of their states while, at the same time, safegauarding the interests of farmers, he said.
"It takes care of the imperatives of growth and employment on the one hand, and interests of the farmers on the other. The bill is the need of the hour. If we do not seize our opportunities, the world will not wait for us," Singh told IANS in an interview.
Singh, who joined BJP last year after serving Congress for several decades, said that during the state ministers' conference held in June 2014 almost all the participants had emphatically brought out that the acquisition under the 2013 Act was extremely difficult.
The new bill provides creation of land bank, compensation at two to four times of market rate to the land owner in case of acquisition as also resettlement and rehabilitation.
"It empowers various departments of state and Centre to acquire land to build irrigation canals, roads, rural housing, infrastructure such as agricultural-produce transportation hubs, warehouses and agriculture support facilities. The proposed industrial corridors will also help create employment locally while boosting country's GDP growth," Singh explained to remove misconceptions about the purpose of the bill.
He said the bill does not permit acquisition by the government for private players but allows the government to create industrial corridors where industries and enterprises will come up to usher growth.
Though contribution of agriculture to GDP reduced from 30 percent to 14.5 percent in two decades from 1990-91, nearly half the country's population is still believed to be dependent on agriculture for sustenance.
A study by Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) found that given an option majority of farmers in the country would prefer to take up some other work. Poor income, bleak future and stress were among the main reasons identified for their desire to give up farming and migrate to cities.
Singh said benefits of the new bill will be felt in the coming months and years and will prove "worth of our policies."
The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation (Amendment) Bill, 2015 was passed in the Lok Sabha in the first half of budget session with nine official amendments. It has not yet been taken up in the Rajya Sabha where the National Democratic Alliance government lacks majority.
Singh said Congress was opposing the bill merely for the sake of opposing it.
"Congress is saying that we want the 2013 Act without any changes. There is only political angle and that's why there is political resistance or 'blockade'."
The minister said political parties calibrate their stand on various issues from time to time and opposition parties would not like to be "on the wrong foot" on the land bill.
"I think it will be passed. We have diligently gone through each suggestion that we received and have brought nine amendments in Lok Sabha. If there is anything in the interest of farmers, we have no objections (in accepting it)," he said.
Singh, grandson of Sir Chhotu Ram who was a prominent pre-partition politician and a champion of interests of farmers, said he will not allow any injustice to farmers.
"There cannot be injustice to farmers while I am there...The bill is definitively pro-farmer," Singh said.
Asked about the possibility of government going for a joint session if the bill is not passed in the Rajya Sabha, he said: "We have not thought about it."
The land ordinance was re-promulgated earlier this month as the bill was not passed in the first half of budget session. The Rajya Sabha was prorogued to enable repromulgation of the ordnance.
The new bill provides for removal of consent clause for acquiring land for certain sectors including defence and affordable housing.
28 Feb 2020 3:46 AM GMT