Ahead of Congress' 'victory' rally on land bill issue, NDA Government today launched a counter-offensive questioning the party's commitment to farmers and said it should explain how "land was acquired without consent and released for extraneous means" in Haryana during its rule.
Addressing a joint press conference, Urban Development Minister M Venkaiah Naidu and Rural Development Minister Chaudhary Birender Singh said that the Opposition party "owes an explanation" before holding the rally on Sunday.
"First rally behind facts, then hold a rally. First tally the facts, then hold a rally. Explain this looting of farmers' land in Haryana. We are giving you sufficient time before you hold the rally. Seek a reply from the then Haryana Chief Minister (Bhupinder Singh Hooda), who led this movement to loot farmers' land and give the answer," Naidu said.
Singh also minced no words in attacking Hooda, who was his bete noire in Congress, as he reeled out figures of land acquired for Special Economic Zones in the state as well as land notified for acquisition in at least 15 places in the state by the departments of industry and town and country planning measuring up to 78,695 acres.
Rural Development Minister Singh, who is a prominent Jaat leader from Haryana and son of well-known peasant leader Sir Chhotu Ram, was in Congress for a long time before he joined the BJP last year.
Alleging that Congress is trying to create fear in the minds of farmers, Naidu said, "Congress has cheated and robbed farmers by continuing to acquire land under the same British law of 1894 for more than 50 years of its rule and even nine years of the UPA rule.
"They are now shedding crocodile tears. How dare you criticise the BJP. You acquired lakhs of acres of land during your rule. We did not. You are the villain not we," he said.
Asking the Congress to explain, the ministers alleged in a joint statement, "There is no end to such land scams presided over by the Congress. In the state of Haryana nearly 8000 acres of farmers' land were acquired under different pretexts. However, all of us are aware of who benefited from such deals."
"Out of 37 Special Economic Zones that were notified in Haryana in last ten years, only six have been made operational. The lands purportedly meant for SEZ, Industrial corridors have landed in the kitty of big industrial houses whereas farmers were left high and dry."
The attempt was obviously to counter the Congress charge that the NDA government was working to benefit few industrialists at the cost of farmers.
"Explain the actions of the then Haryana government of notifying 78695.25 acres of land and withdrawing 19,309 acres," the ministers said, adding, "how do you justify? Do you have any answers. First explain, then hold Kisan rallies."
The ministers strongly defended Government's decision to bring the ordinance on land and then allowing it to lapse after three time promulgation saying the changes were brought at the request of Congress-ruled states but they changed their track due to "political" reasons.
Under attack over the land bill from opposition and even some allies, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had last month said that the government would not re-promulgate the ordinance following which Congress had claimed victory. It also announced holding of 'Kisan Mazdoor Samman Rally' of farmers.
Quoting a Hindi proverb, the rural development minister said that Congress raking up the land acquisition issue is a classic case of pot calling the kettle black ('sau chuhe kha ke billi haj ko chali').
"Those who acquired lakhs of acres of farmers' land in Haryana, Maharashtra, Karnataka and other Congress-ruled states without paying adequate compensation and depriving them of livelihood are now portraying themselves as well-wishers of the farming community. What a tragedy?," the ministers said at the press conference which was also attended by Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore.
They insisted that a number of chief ministers and state government representatives of Congress and other parties told the government that the 2013 land law was impeding acquisition while the then Commerce Minister Anand Sharma had raised concern that the Act will have adverse, long-term implications for manufacturing, industrialisation and urbanisation.
Singh said that Congress chief ministers stayed away from a meeting of NITI Aayog a few months back as they had departed from their earlier stated stand on the issue.
The ministers insisted that the NDA land acquisition Bill was in the interest of the people and farmers and accused Congress and other opposition parties of resorting to the spreading of "false propaganda".
Asked whether the government's decision to let the land ordinance lapse indicates a final decision not to press the changes in UPA's land lawn, Naidu avoided a direct reply.
"We are still open to suggestions. We respect Parliament. We respect the Joint Committee of Parliament. As far as the issue of what manner the Bill has to be taken forward is concerned, we have on the one hand the views of chief ministers of various states and on the other hand there will be the recommendations of the parliamentary panel.
"We will have to move forward considering both," he said.
The NDA ministers also justified the Centre's decision to issue a government order last month to bring 13 other central laws under the ambit of 2013 land law's provisions for compensation, relief and rehabilitation and questioned why had the Congress kept them out for one year while bringing the land law in 2013.
Insisting that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has always said that his government was open to all views and suggestions on the land Bill issue, the ministers rued that "attempts are being made to create false fear in the minds of farmers".
They said that the guiding mantra of the NDA government is "welfare of the villages and poor farmers".
To underline their claim, they cited a number of decisions like raising of compensation in case of natural calamities for the farmers from Rs 1.2 lakh to Rs 4 lakh and 50 per cent increase in compensation for crops and cattle and reducing the eligibility criteria for compensation for damaged crops from earlier 50 per cent to 33 per cent.