Former Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah on Thursday attacked the BJP government over changes to the Land Reforms Act that liberalised farmland ownership.
The changes were confirmed on July 13 when the Land Reforms Act, 1961 was changed through an ordinance and notified after Governor Vajubhai Vala gave his assent. It allows even non-farmers to buy agricultural land and grow food crops.
"We will challenge the ordinance till the state government withdraws it. It's against the farmers' interests and favours corporate bodies and real estate sharks," Congress legislative party leader Siddaramaiah said.
The changes amounted to almost repealing the entire Act and the protection to poor and small farmers under it had been taken away, the senior Congress leader said, demanding its withdrawal.
Siddaramaiah said the Congress will organise a statewide agitation from village level, along with farmers organisations and other like minded parties, against the ordinance.
Denying the charges, state Deputy Chief Minister CN Ashwath Narayan said the amendments were made as the existing Act was unique.
Pointing out that Congress legislators had supported the amendments earlier, he expressed surprise over Siddaramaiah criticising the ordinance and ruled out its withdrawal.
Ashwath Narayan said that the government will not withdraw the ordinance at any cost.
"While there was one kind of Act across the country, it was different in Karnataka and was in no way useful to farmers and people. Its misuse had led to a lot of corruption, and the amendments are pro development," the Deputy CM was quoted as saying by his office in a release.
The changes included easing restrictions on buying of agricultural land and ceiling on the extent of land one can hold.
"The BJP government in Karnataka has made amendments to the Land Reforms Act and brought out an ordinance on July 13 despite stiff opposition from us," Siddaramaiah, Leader of the Opposition in the state assembly, said.
"I had initially thought that the government will not come out with the ordinance at a time when COVID-19 was spreading, but the government did," he said.
"If the government had good intentions, it should have brought it (the measure) during the assembly session and also had a public debate on the issue," the opposition leader added.
The ordinance has repealed Sections 79 (A), (B) and (C) from the original Act, and made way for non-agriculturists to buy farmland.
Siddaramaiah claimed 13,814 pending cases of violation in land use would get dismissed under the latest ordinance and alleged there was a bigger conspiracy behind it.
"This looks like a scam bigger than the mining scam, as several cases or petitions that were pending under sections 79 (A), (B) are dismissed, and they were related to violation in use of land worth about Rs 45,000-50,000 crore," he said.
The mining scam rocked the BJP government in power in Karnataka from 2008 to 2013. Gali Janardhana Reddy and Somashekara Reddy, two BJP ministers at the time, were accused of illegally mining iron ore after paying royalty to the government.
With PTI inputs