Nov 8: Supreme Court upholds land rights of people affected by infrastructure projects

November 8, 2012

http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/supreme-court-upholds-land-rights-people-affected-infrastructure-projects

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Slams Maharashtra government for denying compensation to family whose land was taken over for industrial development nearly fifty years ago

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The Supreme Court of India has passed a strongly worded order against forcible land acquisition by government agencies and denial of compensation to land owners. Depriving a person of immovable property is a violation of the Constitution, a bench of the Supreme Court said. “In a welfare state, statutory authorities are bound, not only to pay adequate compensation, but there is also a legal obligation upon them to rehabilitate such persons,” said the court. The order, dated November 2, was given while disposing of a petition by Tukaram Joshi and his family members, residents of a village in Thane district, whose land was wrongfully acquired for industrial development.

While ruling in favour of the petitioners, the apex court set aside the Bombay High Court’s decision to dismiss the petition on the ground of delay in filing petition. In his order, Justice B S Chauhan said: “the high court committed an error in holding the appellants non-suited on the ground of delay and non-availability of records, as the court failed to appreciate that the appellants had been pursing their case persistently.”

The Joshis are claimants to a plot measuring 9,500 sq metre in Shirwame Taluka village of Thane. According to them, a large chunk of land, including the said land, was notified on June 6, 1964 for establishing an industrial development venture—Ulhas Khore project. However, no subsequent proceedings were taken up, and as a result the acquisition proceedings lapsed. But the appellants’ predecessors were illiterate farmers and failed to take back their land. The state authorities took possession of the land and handed it over to the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) in 1964 itself.

In 1981, the state government realised the procedural lapse and injustice done to the appellants and again issued notification for land acquisition. But again, no further proceedings were initiated. The appellants said they had been pursuing their case with the authorities to complete acquisition proceedings but in vain. Subsequently, on April 30, 1988, MIDC handed over the land to City Industrial Development Corporation of Maharashtra. The appellants were unable to get any compensation for their land or land in lieu of it. Various beneficial schemes were floated by the state authorities to benefit persons who had been deprived of their land for the same project and other projects. They were given developed land in lieu of the land acquired. But not the appellants.

Spur for anti-national activities

The apex court judge said non-fulfillment of obligations by the state in such cases amounts to forcing “uprooted persons to become vagabonds or to indulge in anti-national activities as such sentiments would be born in them on account of such ill-treatment”. Therefore, it is not permissible for any welfare state to uproot a person and deprive him of his fundamental and constitutional human rights under the garb of industrial development, he said.

The judge observed that the appellants have been deprived of their legitimate dues for about half a century. “The appellants have been seriously discriminated against qua other persons, whose land was also acquired. Some of them were given the benefits of acquisition, including compensation in the year 1966. This kind of discrimination not only breeds corruption, but also disrespect for governance, as it leads to frustration and, to a certain extent, forces persons to take the law into their own hands.”

The order said that “the market value of the land in dispute will be assessed as it prevails on the date on which the Section 4 notification is published in the official Gazette. Payment of compensation/award amount will be made to the claimants/persons interested immediately thereafter, along with all statutory benefits. The appellants shall be entitled to pursue the statutory remedies available to them for further enhancement of compensation, if so desired”.