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India's lower house passes land acquisition bill
[NEW DELHI] The Indian parliament's lower house on Tuesday passed a controversial land acquisition bill that business-friendly Prime Minister Narendra Modi hopes will attract much-needed investment to boost the economy.
The bill - which still has to be approved by the upper house - would make it easier for companies to purchase land, but opponents say it would hurt farmers.
Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) party and its allies have a majority in the lower house and proposed several last-minute amendments to ease the bill's passage late Tuesday.
In December, the PM's cabinet approved an emergency executive order making it simpler to acquire land if it was to be utilised for power, housing or defence projects as part of a bid to kickstart billions of dollars' worth of stalled infrastructure projects.
The new bill would replace the previous Congress government's land act that had made it compulsory for those seeking to acquire land to have the consent of 80 per cent of the affected landowners and to compensate tenant farmers up to four times the market price.
Restrictions on buying land have been cited as the main reason behind delays to projects worth almost US$300 billion nationwide, and business groups have complained rules are skewed too heavily in favour of landowners.
The country's biggest corporate groups have flocked behind business-friendly Modi, whose Hindu nationalist BJP swept to power in May on a pledge to revive the ailing economy.
But opponents have expressed concern that the dash for growth has led to a watering-down of environmental rules and land laws to favour business.
Congress and other opposition lawmakers stormed out of parliament in protest during voting late Tuesday.
The BJP and its allies are expected to encounter major hurdles when they bring the bill before the upper house of parliament, where they lack a majority.
Failure to clear the bill there could lead the executive order to lapse, which would in turn pave the way for Modi to form a rare joint parliamentary session where his coalition would have a majority to pass it.