It is yet another example of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing in Manmohan Singhís government. The way the land acquisition bill has been held up again exposes an utter lack of co-ordination among different ministries. The objections to the bill this time have come, not from the Congressís allies, but from some of the partyís own ministers. After some of the allies had objected to the original bill, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha last September, a standing committee prepared an amended version. Several important ministers now seem to have serious misgivings about even the amended bill. Clearly, their ministries did not find time to carefully examine the provisions of the amended bill. Yet, the acquisition of land is of crucial importance to all these ministries. Issues such as industrialization, urbanization and development of infrastructure are directly linked to the billís provisions. If ministers in charge of portfolios like commerce, urban development, power and highways have not had time to study the bill, they obviously failed to appreciate its importance. It also reflects the governmentís lack of direction.
This is not to suggest that the objections are without any basis. What Kamal Nath, urban development minister, or Anand Sharma, commerce minister, fears about the billís impact on urbanization and industrialization may not be wholly unfounded. But the argument that development projects would be stalled because of high prices of land is clearly flawed. A liberalized economy does not have to be a low-cost one. Costs for building a modern highway will be high. But that cannot be an argument for not having such highways. The sensible approach would be to devise ways to make the building and the running of a highway a viable economic activity. Similarly, urbanization projects need not be stalled just because land prices go up. The latest objections to the bill reflect old prejudices about the uses of land. If agricultural land is to be converted for other uses, the farmers whose plots are to be acquired must benefit from the process. Higher prices of land and better compensation packages to farmers who sell their land are part of a larger economic transition. Farmers should have as much stake in this transition as those setting up industries or other projects on farmland. Many in the government seem to be missing the big picture.