On February 4, a single-judge bench of Justice Sujit Narayan Prasad, in the case of Saral Kumar Jha, a BSF jawan serving in Kashmir in Writ Petition (Civil ) no. 4844 of 2017 directed the government to consider afresh the demand against cancellation of the land which was earlier allotted to the armyman by the Central government. The cancellation was occasioned because the Jharkhand government had reached an agreement with company, Adani Thermal Power Limited, for setting up a power plant at Godda in the state.
By an order dated January 16, 2017, the Deputy Collector, Land Reforms, Godda, had cancelled the allotment of 2.02 acres of patta of land to Jha, and instead issued a notification under Section 93(1) of the Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 compulsorily acquiring the land for the Adani Group company.
Petition to Quash Acquisition
Lately, Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), a pan-India legal rights and advocacy organisation, has a writ petition in the Ranchi High Court demanding quashing of acquisition of 1,363 acres of agricultural land for the purpose of setting up a power plant by a private company, Adani Thermal Power Limited, in Godda, Jharkhand. The petitioners have requested the court to also direct the state government to return the land to the owners.
The writ petition has been filed on behalf of 16 petitioners, who claim that the government didn’t consult them before handing over the land to the company and that setting up of the power plant is going to affect over 1,300 people. The petition points out, “These petitioners are earning their livelihood from agriculture. They have no other source of income. Their family members are totally dependent on this land for their survival.”
The petition further states that all the petitioners fall under the category of ‘affected person’ as defined in the Act. “They (petitioners) have been observing the entire acquisition very closely since the beginning and found that the acquisition process is entirely illegal and the consent whatsoever is obtained is on the basis of coercion, fraud, undue influence etc. Moreover, the mandatory legal provisions have not been followed,” the petition states.
Not for Public Purpose
The petition contends that the private thermal power project does not come under the definition of “Public Purpose” as defined in section 2(1) of the Act as the entire project is being established for the gain of a private company, Adani Power Limited.
“HRLN further observed that Respondents have only included the landowners in the category of affected persons leaving behind around 4000 agriculture labourers, Bataidaar, Fisherman, Artisans, Tenants, sharecroppers etc. whose livelihood shall be ruined by this acquisition,” the petition states.
The petition explains that the private company, Adani Power Limited, in a letter dated May 6, 2016, requested the state government for allotment of land and stated that it required 1715.82 acres of “private” and 268.49 acres of “government” land for setting up a thermal power plant. After several revisions, the land requirement was reduced to around 1,363 acres.
As per the judgement in Kedar Nath Yadav v. State of West Bengal, (2016) the Supreme Court held that: “…Acquisition which seek to justify as one for ‘Public Purpose’ on the ground that setting up industry would generate employment and promote socio-economic development cannot be permitted in absence of relevant policy documents as that would render Pt.VII, LA Act nugatory and redundant.”
The petitioners pointed out that prior consent of landowners was not taken and around 400 affected landowners had written to the government refusing to give their land and they were not made a part of the Social Impact Assessment report. The petitioners informed that over 2,000 trees have been cut illegally by the private company without any prior approval from the authorities and the agricultural land has been acquired by the company depriving thousands of people of their livelihood.
Brazen Indifference of Adani
Speaking to NewsClick, Jha said the Adani corporation paid him only a measly Rs. 30,400 for the land, and even when he challenged the acquisition before the relevant authorities and the case was sub judice in the high court, the company took over his land and destroyed the entire crop growing there. “Since 2010, when the land was allotted to me, I have spent a total of Rs 25 lakh on making the land ready for cultivation and growing crops there. Now, without any concrete direction from the Hon’ble High Court, and the company’s brazenness, I feel hapless. I am away on duty in Kashmir, but will speak to my lawyer and decide on the further course of action. I am not letting go of my land without putting up a stiff resistance”, he said.
The writer is an independent journalist based in Delhi, and specialises in reporting on legal, human rights and gender issues. The views expressed are personal.