Dehradun: Purchase of agricultural land in Uttarakhand by outsiders looks set to emerge as a key issue in the run-up to the 2022 assembly elections.
The Congress has said its manifesto will include a promise to scrap a controversial 2018 law introduced by the erstwhile Trivendra Singh Rawat government that lifted restrictions on non-domiciles looking to purchase local agricultural land for industrial purchases.
The BJP, meanwhile, is speaking in different voices on the issue. While Rawat continues to defend the decision, saying it is meant to bolster investment in the hill state, a party spokesperson told ThePrint that the incumbent Pushkar Singh Dhami government will “hammer out a recourse to silence the opposition on the land law issue”.
There is believed to be significant resentment on the ground over Rawat’s decision to scrap the 12-acre ceiling on purchase of agricultural land for industrial purposes.
His government did so by introducing the Uttarakhand Amendment Act, 2018, to add two new sections — 143 (A) and 154 (2) — in the UP Zamindari Abolition and Land Reforms Act, 1950 (Uttarakhand was carved out of UP in 2000).
These sections allowed any firm, group or individual to purchase agricultural land in the state for setting up industrial units in select non-agricultural sectors specified in the Act.
The land-purchase restriction had been imposed in 2008 by the then B.C.-Khanduri led BJP government.
Political analyst and columnist Jai Singh Rawat said the issue of the land law has a direct link with local sentiments and emotions, noting that the 2018 amendment had resulted in protests and demands for a new land law limiting or preventing non-domiciles from purchasing agricultural land in the Himalayan state.
“It gave room to the Opposition to make hay while the sun shines. The Congress is trying hard to keep the issue on public agenda for it directly relates to local sentiments and emotions,” he added.
A hot potato
The Congress, which is the main Opposition party in the state, has said that it will quash the Uttarakhand (Uttar Pradesh Zamindari Abolition And Land Reforms Act, 1950) Amendment Act, 2018, if voted to office.
The easing of the land-purchase policy, senior Congress leaders say, is detrimental to the people of Uttarakhand and their farmland.
They have promised to enact a new law on the lines of the Himachal Pradesh Tenancy and Land Reforms Act, 1972, which imposes certain restrictions on the purchase of land by non-agriculturalists.
Speaking to ThePrint, All India Congress Committee general secretary and former chief minister Harish Rawat said Uttarakhand needs a special land law on the lines of the one in Himachal Pradesh, to restrict non-domiciles from purchasing land in the state.
“The law will have its soul in the Himachal Pradesh Tenancy and Land Reforms Act, 1972, but will be in tune with the needs of the people of Uttarakhand. Besides restrictions on purchase of land for non-domiciles, the new law will also take care of other land aspects and management of the state’s water resources,” he added.
“If voted to power in 2022, we will scrap the Act and provisions made by the present BJP government of Uttarakhand. This law has created a gateway for bulk buyers to purchase unlimited size of land — against earlier cap of 12 acres — in Uttarakhand,” he said.
“They say it will bring investment to the state, but the 12-acre cap was good enough for setting up industrial units permissible under the state’s industrial policy,” he said.
“The new land law will be a major election issue in every aspect if the present government fails to rectify its mistake in time.”
State Congress general secretary Rajendra Shah said the party “will incorporate the issue in its election manifesto with a promise to formulate a new land law in the interest of the local public and saving the state’s agricultural land”.
Congress MLA Manoj Rawat, the first legislator to raise his voice against the 2018 legislation in the assembly, said the state government “must reveal its compulsions behind lifting restrictions on purchase of land for industrial purposes”.
“Enactment of a new land law similar to Himachal Pradesh tenancy Act is the only solution now. We will go to the people and expose the BJP government and its betrayal to them,” he added.
‘Still time until elections’
Trivendra Singh Rawat defends the 2018 law, saying restrictions were lifted for setting up industrial units in four sectors.
“This had a positive impact and investments of more than Rs 35,000 crore have been grounded in the state since our first investment in 2018. How can you expect investment if we don’t provide land for industries?” he said. “The Opposition is trying to create unwanted controversy and playing with public emotions.”
However, BJP state spokesperson Manbir Singh Chauhan said Chief Minister Dhami “has already expressed his willingness to rectify the snag in the interest of the people of Uttarakhand and efforts are on in that direction”.
“There is still time until elections. If needed, the government may enact a new law well in time and the Opposition will be left with no issue,” he added.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)