GoM move a bad omen for UPA's land acquisition Bill

AICC General Secretary Rahul Gandhi

AICC General Secretary Rahul Gandhi

The shunting of the Land Acquisition Bill to a soon-to-be-constituted Group of Ministers (GoM) is a bad sign for what was once Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi's pet project.

Considering that the existing acquisition law and its occasional wanton implementation has been the cause of several popular agitations in recent times, the Union government could have certainly done better.

The proposed Bill, initiated by the National Advisory Council (NAC), had attempted to address the contentious issues by offering compensation at two times the market price for urban areas and four times the market price for rural areas.

Other portions of the bill tightened policies for special economic zones, prevented the government from acquiring land for companies or public-private partnership projects and also made a Social Impact Assessment mandatory for every project.

As expected when so many stakeholders are involved, nearly every portion of the Bill earned opposition from multiple quarters.

The surprise, however, was that much of this came from the Union Cabinet itself - Tuesday's meeting saw several ministers argue that it would hurt industrial expansion, that mandatory assessments would be cumbersome and that it would send the wrong signal to investors at an inopportune time.

Despite Mr Gandhi's theatrical campaigning in Orissa and at Bhatta Parsaul, Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh appeared to have been left alone to fend off all the internal attacks - forcing the transfer to a GoM.

The GoM is now expected to take several months to make any headway, meaning it is unlikely that a revised Bill could be brought to Parliament any time before next year's Budget session.

Since that would be the last Budget session before 2014's elections, the chances of India framing a new land acquisition law any time soon suddenly seem very bleak.

SIT deserves pat on back

The conviction of 32 people in the Naroda Patiya riot case of February 2002 is highly significant. In terms of the number of people of the minority community who lost their lives (97), this was clearly the most important case being probed by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) and the SIT deserves to be commended for being able to prove its case before the special court.

Of as much significance is the fact that former minister Maya Kodnani and Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi are among those found guilty of criminal conspiracy and murder.

This is the first instance of a top-level politician being convicted in a Gujarat riot case and is sure to provide a healing touch to the victim families, besides all those who hold that the Gujarat riots witnessed the connivance of people wielding power.

Coming as a victory for Indian pluralism, the conviction of Kodnani and Bajrangi will also dull the edge of criticism regarding the SIT's failure to net the big fish allegedly behind the riots.

This is the sixth case probed by the SIT in which judgment has been delivered thus far and that all of them have led to convictions is a comment on the difference that proper investigation can make in nailing the guilty.

Hardly a surprise

The uploading of the death sentence for 26/11-accused Ajmal Kasab by the Supreme Court of India was a foregone conclusion.

Ever since images of a gun-toting Kasab were captured on camera at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai on the night of November 26, 2008, there has been no doubt about his involvement in the massacre that left 166 people dead and the nation outraged. In such circumstances, only technicalities could have saved him from the gallows. However, the Supreme Court has rejected the contentions raised by him on this account.

Though the lone surviving 26/11 terrorist has not exhausted his legal options and can also appeal for mercy once this process comes to an end, commutation of his death sentence looks an unlikely proposition given the public mood and the huge expense involved in keeping him secure.

At the end of it all, the nation ought to feel proud that a man who waged war against it was given a fair hearing and found guilty through the due mechanism of the law.