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PM has no time for panel he chairs, no meet in 4 years

Author: TNN
Publication: The Times of India
Date: June 9, 2012
URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/PM-has-no-time-for-panel-he-chairs-no-meet-in-4-years/articleshow/13940003.cms

The National Council on Land Reforms (NLRC) is still to meet four years after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced its constitution to placate angry tribals who had walked to the national capital from Madhya Pradesh to protest against land acquisition.

 The Union rural development ministry has been ready with the agenda since late last year, when the PMO indicated its readiness for the meeting, but the PM has not found time for the panel he chairs. Besides the PM, the committee comprises 10 chief ministers. The council was expected to meet in October last year.

 That the panel was formed ahead of the 2009 Lok Sabha polls to please protestors but proved a non-starter has added to concerns in some quarters since both the Congress and the Opposition are already talking about the 2014 polls.

 A senior rural development ministry official said, "We need this meeting urgently, if only to give a direction on how land should be used."

 The ministry wants the panel to discuss ways to check diversion of land in tribal areas to private companies, and thrash out schemes to ensure that every landless person has at least land to build a house. The council may also take a close look at consolidating laws governing land records and benami transactions to plug violation of ceiling laws.

 Land issues have turned incendiary in view of acquisitions with the discontent spreading to the hinterland. The blame has fallen on the Centre because of its failure to amend the Land Acquisition Act to curb the state's role in forcibly taking land for private firms.

 Opposition parties, besieged by land-related problems in states ruled by them, have conveniently pushed the blame to the Centre for not legislating on land amendment. Like the BSP's threat to gherao Parliament when it faced farmers' protests in Aligarh and Greater Noida over land acquisition by its agencies.

 Sources said the failure over the Land Acquisition Bill can be offset by showing work on the NLRC.

 The ministry is keen to sensitize states on the need to stop transfer of land and mining leases to non-tribals in Schedule V areas as ruled by the Supreme Court's Samata judgment (July 1997).

 The delay in convening the committee's meeting in four years has triggered anger. P V Rajagopal, who had led the 'Jal, Jungle, Zameen' march here that led to the formation of the council, resigned from the panel in April, though he said that he took it back on being persuaded by friends.

 Venting his anger in Guwahati, he said, "I was decided that I would announce my resignation from Guwahati primarily because the PM represents Assam and has failed to hold a single meeting of the NLRC. Like me, many other members are very upset over the manner in which the NLRC is being run."

The first meeting, whenever it happens, is likely to discuss the report of a sub-committee dealing with national land use policy. With the Land Acquisition Amendment Bill in a limbo, sources said the council would provide a suitable platform to convey the government's vision on the use of land. There are suggestions that states should notify agricultural land as 'special category' that cannot be put to any other use.
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