The Bharatiya Janata Party-led Karnataka government on Tuesday passed the Land Reforms (Amendment) Act in the Legislative Council, after it got the support of the Janata Dal (Secular), which had earlier opposed the amendments, NDTV reported.
The Land Reforms Act virtually removes all restrictions on the purchase of agricultural land, paving the way for private corporations and other individuals to buy it directly from farmers. Earlier, all agricultural land purchases in the state were made via the Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board, and its was sale subject to multiple conditions.
The Act was passed on Tuesday by 37 votes to 21 in the 75-member council. Nine members of the Congress abstained from voting. The party has been opposed to the Act from the beginning, saying it would destroy the rural economy.
The Karnataka Land Reforms (Amendment) Bill, 2020 had earlier been stalled in the Council despite the Legislative Assembly – the Lower House – clearing it. The Janata Dal (Secular’s) support was crucial for the BJP, as it does not have the necessary numbers in the Legislative Council. In the 75-member body, the saffron party has 31 members, Congress has 28 and the JD(S) 14. There are four Independent members.
The bill sought to remove Sections 79 A, B and C of the Karnataka Land Reforms Act, 1961. Section 79 A of the Act restricted farm land purchase to persons earning below Rs 2 lakh per annum, while 79 B restricted farm land purchases to agriculturists. Section 79 C, on the other hand,allowed investigations of violations of Section 79 A and B of the law.
Karnataka Revenue Minister R Ashok, who introduced the bill, said during discussions that the sections sought to be repealed were only facilitating corruption in the offices of land registrars and tehsildars while not benefiting farmers wanting to sell their land, according to The Indian Express.
The contentious bill was passed in the state Assembly in September even as the Congress staged a walkout, calling it a “death warrant” for farmers. “They want to keep the farmers as slaves, so we are opposing this tooth and nail,” DK Shivakumar, chief of the party’s state unit, told NDTV after the walkout.
The passing of the Land Reforms Act came at a time when hundreds of thousands of farmers are protesting against the three central agricultural legislations, which make similar provisions of opening rural markets to private players.
The Parliament had passed three ordinances – Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion & Facilitation) Ordinance 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment & Protection) Assurance and Farm Service Ordinance 2020 and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance 2020 – in September. They were signed into laws by President Ram Nath Kovind on September 27.
Tens of thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab and Haryana, have camped out at the entrance to Delhi for over 13 days, demanding the government should abolish the new legislations. They fear the new policies could pave the way for the government to stop buying grains at guaranteed prices, leaving them at the mercy of big corporations.
The Centre, which claims the laws would revitalise India’s agrarian economy by boosting produce, has made several attempts to placate them. But multiple rounds of talks have failed to break the impasse so far.