Opposition parties got a shot in the arm on Monday when organisations affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh criticised the Modi government’s version of the land acquisition in their depositions before the joint committee of Parliament  scrutinising the controversial legislation.

Representatives  of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh and the Akhil Bharatiya Vanvasi Ashram made clear their opposition to the amended bill,  with one even going as far to say that the it should have a specific clause that the government would not acquire land for private entities.

Committee members as well as officials of the three organisations disclosed that they were opposed to the attempt to do away with the provision on social impact assessment and the consent clause.

Their representatives have suggested that barren as well as unused land that has already been acquired by the government should be used first for development purposes. They were categorical that farmers’ interests should not be compromised in any way.

Social impact assessment 

“We want a proper and detailed social impact assessment,” a representative of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh told Scroll.in. "We also want that farmers should be taken into confidence before their land is acquired."

Coming down firmly against the government’s proposals,  he specifically  referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement that land would not be acquired for private players. “The Prime Minister had given this assurance," he told the committee. "We would like this to be incorporated in the bill.”

In addition, questions were also asked about the clause pertaining to the acquisition of land for industrial corridors.

The Bharatiya Kisan Sangh reiterated the concerns it had flagged in its written representation in which it  insisted that the consent clause be retained, though it has agreed that at least 51% of farmers must give their consent before their land can be acquired.  “We would also like the government  to make a categorical announcement that industries would come up only on barren land and not farm land,”  maintained a representative of the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh.

Changes are 'unacceptable'

Another RSS affiliate, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, has also opposed the changes in the land bill, stating that the amendments introduced by the government were unacceptable. It insisted that the consent clause be retained. In a written representation to the committee, the RSS body said, ”The bill must include  a comprehensive assessment about the social and environmental impact of the land acquisition before actual acquisition.” It has said that the land must be returned to the original owner if  it is not used within a specific time fame. The original bill had included this clause but it was deleted by the Modi government.

Former Bharatiya Janata Party ideologue Govindacharya is slated to depose before the parliamentary panel on Tuesday but he has already written  in criticising the amendments introduced by the National Democratic Alliance government. He hit out at the ruling alliance for  its undue haste in pushing through such an important legislation through the ordinance route which, he said, had given the impression that this  had been done to help industrialists and big business.

It was clearly not a happy day for the ruling party.  Already bombarded with objections to the bill, it  had also to contend with strong opposition from former Aam Admi Party leader Yogendra Yadav who insisted that the legislation must protect the interests of farmers.

The Opposition was predictably thrilled  that the RSS affiliated bodies had supported their version of the bill  and rejected the government’ s amendments.  Although their opposition to the NDA bill was known, there were apprehensions in the opposition camp that  these organisations may have changed  their stand after they had been spoken to by Bharatiya Janata party president Amit Shah and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.  However, the Opposition was pleasantly surprised when the representatives of the RSS affiliates  insisted on Monday that the altered bill would not serve the interests of farmers.

Heavy lifting

Opposition parties have been banking on the RSS-affiliated organisations to help them in stalling the contentious land legislation and embarrassing the Modi government. It was precisely for this reason that  they had insisted that the representatives of these groups be invited to depose before the parliamentary panel. Congress general secretary and Rajya Sabha MP Digivijaya Singh, who is a member of this committee, is learnt to be the brains  behind this strategy.

Since all the heavy lifting was done by the RSS affiliates on Monday, opposition members decided to sit back and enjoy the show.  Even the usually vociferous Trinamool Congress members Kalyan Bannerjee and Derek O’Brien took a back seat and  happily ceded the floor to the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh and other organisations. The Congress, whose opposition to the bill is well known, has maintained a studied silence since the committee proceedings got underway with plans to place their views at an appropriate time.

Faced with internal trouble and a growing perception that it is acting in the interest of industrialists, the Modi government may  offer a compromise formula to the RSS affiliates. Pushed on the backfoot, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has publicly declared the land bill is not a matter of “life and death”. But those who know him believe  he will make all effort to push it through even though he is up against a united opposition that has the numbers in the Rajya Sabha to vote out the bill.  The prime minister is keen on diluting the 2013 land bill as he believes it is blocking investments in the crucial infrastructure sector.