India opposition MPs march against land law changes

Farmers protest near the parliament against the land acquisition bill, in Delhi, March 16, 2015 Image copyright AP
Image caption Farmers have also protested against the land acquisition bill

Opposition MPs in India have marched to the presidential palace to protest against a controversial land acquisition bill.

The protesters are being led by Sonia Gandhi, the leader of India's main opposition Congress party, and include MPs from several regional parties.

Opponents of the bill, which was passed in the lower house last week, say it will hurt the interests of farmers.

The bill eases rules for acquiring land for infrastructure projects.

The government says it is aimed at kick-starting stalled projects across the country worth billions of dollars.

On Tuesday evening, Mrs Gandhi led the protesting MPs as they marched the short distance from parliament to the Rashtrapati Bhavan (president's house) to submit a memorandum to President Pranab Mukherjee.

Security was tight for the march, with several hundred policemen deployed along its route.

Industrialists had raised concerns over a law approved by the former Congress party government last year which made it harder to acquire land from farmers.

Under the law, the consent of 70% of families is required where land is sought for public-private partnership projects, and 80% for private projects.

In December, the Narendra Modi-led BJP government passed an emergency executive order removing these requirements for a range of projects, including those relating to defence and national security, rural infrastructure, affordable housing, industrial corridors and infrastructure.

The order also exempted these projects from having to go through a social impact assessment - a study by independent experts to determine a project's impact on people's land and livelihoods, and its economic, social and cultural consequences, in consultation with affected communities.

The executive order will lapse if not approved within six weeks from the beginning of the current parliament session on 20 February.

The bill has been passed by the lower house where the BJP has a clear majority, but it is facing a hurdle in the upper house of the parliament where they are in a minority and need the support of opposition parties to pass laws.

The government has defended changes in the bill, saying they would "minimise" difficulties in acquiring land for critical public projects.

But critics of the bill say it is anti-farmer and last month, thousands of people protested outside the parliament, led by anti-corruption campaigner Anna Hazare.

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