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Rule of Law Farm and Forest

For farmers deprivation of land can be traumatic, Telangana HC awarding compensation

The court invalidated the consent awards obtained under coercion from small farmers, awarded compensation for loss of land to an irrigation project, and in the absence of evidence in rebuttal, found that this may be a case of forceful dispossession of land.

Sanchita Kadam 09 Jun 2020

Women Labour

The case is of coercive dispossession of lands of small farmers by the state without adequate payment of compensation as per law. In a substantive, 48 page judgement, the court, on June 3, ruled in favour of the petitioners and directed the state to pay compensation within 3 months.

Background

The petitions were filed by small farmers owning small pieces of land in Siddipet and Rajanna Siricilla districts. The state government needed to acquire their lands in order to construct the Ananthagiri Sagar Reservoir for the Kaleswaram Irrigation Project.

The petitioners, represented by Rachna Reddy, stated that they were forcibly evicted from their lands and homes in the middle of the night in April 2020 and within 4 days the reservoir was inaugurated. It was contended that the states coerced them into signing the consent awards offering arbitrary price for their lands which had no bearing to the registration or the market value of the lands and stated that they were not willing to sell their lands voluntarily. Further the consent award made no mention of Rehabilitation and Resettlement as provided in Section 31 [Rehabilitation and Resettlement Award for affected families by Collector] and Schedules II and III of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (Land Acquisition Act, 2013). Further they were also entitled to an additional lump sum amount Rehabilitation and Resettlement for irrigation projects as per the Telangana state amendment of 2017, which had a retrospective effect. Further they were not compensated even for the many structures on those lands which were mentioned to the Deputy Collector.

The bench, comprising Justices MS Ramachandra Rao and K Lakshman, also dismissed the government’s attempt to adjourn the matter until regular functioning of the court resumes after the pandemic. The bench observed, “keeping in mind the present pendency of more than two lakh cases and the Bench strength of the High Court of a mere 14 Judges as against a sanctioned strength of 24, would happen probably only after 10 years from now, by which time the petitioners’ lives would be destroyed.”

Case laws cited

Taking into consideration the plight of the petitioners, the court observed, “For an Indian farmer like the petitioners, deprivation of agricultural land is traumatic, more so, when compensation as per the Law of the land is not paid at the earliest and proper Resettlement and Rehabilitation, as per law, is not done”. The court also cited Supreme Court judgments such as State of M.P. Vs. Narmada Bachao Andolan and anr ((2011) 7 S.C.C. 639) whereby the court explained the importance of Rehabilitation and Resettlement of land losers and other affected people when land is acquired by the State for public purpose. It declared that

“for people whose lives and livelihoods are intrinsically connected to the land, the economic and cultural shift to a market economy can be traumatic; that though the plea of deprivation of right to livelihood under Article 21 of the Constitution in the case of land acquisition is unsustainable, still they are entitled to resettlement and rehabilitation as per the policy framed for the oustees of the project; mere payment of compensation would not be enough in case the oustee is unable to purchase the land with the compensation received by him; that in the process of development, the State cannot be permitted to displace tribal people, a vulnerable section of society, suffering from poverty and ignorance, without taking appropriateremedial measures of rehabilitation; that ‘rehabilitation’, is restoration of status of something loss, displaced or even otherwise a grant to secure a dignified mode of life to a person who has nothing to sustain himself and is different from ‘compensation’; that this concept brings within its fold the presence of elements of Article 21 of the Constitution of India; and those who have been rendered destitute, have to be assured a permanent source of basic livelihood to sustain themselves.”

The court also cited another judgment of the Supreme Court interpreting section 30 [Award of solatium] of the Land Acquisition Act, 2013 in Indore Development Authority Vs.Manoharlal and ors:

“93. Undoubtedly the Act of 2013 has provided safeguards, in the form of higher compensation and provisions for rehabilitation, which are necessary. In that light, the court has to interpret its provisions, to give full and meaningful effect to the legislative intent keeping in mind the language and tenor of the provisions, it is not for the court to legislate. The Court can only iron out creases to clear ambiguity. The intended benefit should not be taken away.”

Courts findings

The court observed that the respondent state did not place before the court any agreement signed by the petitioners showing how the price/consideration per acre was arrived at, or for showing that the consent of all the petitioners to accept what was offered to them by the respondents was voluntary, or even to show that petitioners have waived their right to claim compensation for land or structures.” The court also pointed out that the respondents did not file minutes of meetings showing how the consideration offered to the petitioners was arrived at, neither did they file any record of the registration department showing market value of the land. The court highlighted the importance of these missing documents, “Such record is critical to ascertain whether petitioners agreed to part with their lands voluntarily and whether price was arrived at objectively keeping in view the market value/ registration value of neighbouring lands, and as to what the petitioners were made to agree was more beneficial than what they would have got for the land under Act 30 of 2013.”

The court observed, “there is unequal bargaining power between the State actors such as the respondents and the petitioners, who are small farmers.” the court also held that in this case, the state violated the public trust doctrine,

“Since objectivity and transparency are essential elements of exercise of public power which are required to be followed, and we find that in the instant cases there is absence of any evidence of

(a) objective determination of the quantum of consideration and

(b)  transparency in the actions of respondents, we find that the exercise of public power by the respondents is in violation of the public trust doctrine and unconscionable.”

The court perceived this as a case where the petitioners were given no choice but to give their assent to a contract that was “unfair, unreasonable and unconscionable”.

The court deduced that the contentions of the petitioners that the prices were fixed arbitrarily and the states coerced them for parting with their land, had considerable weightage.

The court declared the consent awards to be unenforceable under sections 19 [Voidability of agreements without free consent] and 23 [lawfulness of consideration] of the Indian Contract Act. It further held that the state acted in violation of Article 14 [right to equality] and 300A [Persons not to be deprived of property save by authority of law] of the Indian Constitution.

The court further gave specific directions pertaining to the compensation to be awarded to the petitioners under section 30 of the Land Acquisition Act, 2013 by directing the state to adjust the additional amount payable against the amount already paid instead of recovering the amount already paid. The court also directed the state to give compensation for the structures taken away with the lands such as water pumps, cattle sheds, since the same was not refuted by the state in its affidavit. Lastly, the petitioners were also awarded a lump sum towards rehabilitation and resettlement as per section 31A of the amending Act passed by Telangana state in 2017.

The court directed that the amounts be paid to the petitioners within 3 months.

Importance in Jurisprudence

This judgment of Telangana High Court comes at a very crucial time. The significance of the ratio decidendi or the operative and binding part of the judgement lies in its recognition of the right of farmers or even land owners for lawful compensation as per law and for voluntary dispossession of their land. The Uttar Pradesh government recently decided to ease the land acquisition process in its state in order to promote investment in the post lockdown period. It has been reported that the state is considering amending the revenue code to permit leasing of agricultural and for industrial units or parks while keeping the land use conversion fee from agricultural to industrial to a maximum of 15 to 20%.

In May 2020, the Karnataka Governor gave assent to the Karnataka Land Reforms (Amendment) Bill, 2020 allowing industries to buy land directly from farmers, which will only require permission of the Revenue department, which will be further deemed approved if no red flags are raised within 30 days.

The judgment and the decisions of these two states when juxtaposed, show how the intention of the legislature is being completely disregarded by states to further corporate at the expense of the farmers, while the courts are trying to safeguard and protect the same. The farmers in this case may have been lucky that their grievances were resolved in such a short span of time but many others are awaiting justice for their lands grabbed from them without adequate compensation. Moreover, such decisions by governments are only adding to the woes of fragmented land owners/small farmers.

The complete order can be read here.

 

Related:

Uttar Pradesh to make land acquisition for corporates easier, will maintain land bank

Farmers stood up for basic rights, were shot at, six died: Mandsaur, MP, 2017

MP Forest Department allegedly burns down tribal family's home

For farmers deprivation of land can be traumatic, Telangana HC awarding compensation

The court invalidated the consent awards obtained under coercion from small farmers, awarded compensation for loss of land to an irrigation project, and in the absence of evidence in rebuttal, found that this may be a case of forceful dispossession of land.

Women Labour

The case is of coercive dispossession of lands of small farmers by the state without adequate payment of compensation as per law. In a substantive, 48 page judgement, the court, on June 3, ruled in favour of the petitioners and directed the state to pay compensation within 3 months.

Background

The petitions were filed by small farmers owning small pieces of land in Siddipet and Rajanna Siricilla districts. The state government needed to acquire their lands in order to construct the Ananthagiri Sagar Reservoir for the Kaleswaram Irrigation Project.

The petitioners, represented by Rachna Reddy, stated that they were forcibly evicted from their lands and homes in the middle of the night in April 2020 and within 4 days the reservoir was inaugurated. It was contended that the states coerced them into signing the consent awards offering arbitrary price for their lands which had no bearing to the registration or the market value of the lands and stated that they were not willing to sell their lands voluntarily. Further the consent award made no mention of Rehabilitation and Resettlement as provided in Section 31 [Rehabilitation and Resettlement Award for affected families by Collector] and Schedules II and III of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (Land Acquisition Act, 2013). Further they were also entitled to an additional lump sum amount Rehabilitation and Resettlement for irrigation projects as per the Telangana state amendment of 2017, which had a retrospective effect. Further they were not compensated even for the many structures on those lands which were mentioned to the Deputy Collector.

The bench, comprising Justices MS Ramachandra Rao and K Lakshman, also dismissed the government’s attempt to adjourn the matter until regular functioning of the court resumes after the pandemic. The bench observed, “keeping in mind the present pendency of more than two lakh cases and the Bench strength of the High Court of a mere 14 Judges as against a sanctioned strength of 24, would happen probably only after 10 years from now, by which time the petitioners’ lives would be destroyed.”

Case laws cited

Taking into consideration the plight of the petitioners, the court observed, “For an Indian farmer like the petitioners, deprivation of agricultural land is traumatic, more so, when compensation as per the Law of the land is not paid at the earliest and proper Resettlement and Rehabilitation, as per law, is not done”. The court also cited Supreme Court judgments such as State of M.P. Vs. Narmada Bachao Andolan and anr ((2011) 7 S.C.C. 639) whereby the court explained the importance of Rehabilitation and Resettlement of land losers and other affected people when land is acquired by the State for public purpose. It declared that

“for people whose lives and livelihoods are intrinsically connected to the land, the economic and cultural shift to a market economy can be traumatic; that though the plea of deprivation of right to livelihood under Article 21 of the Constitution in the case of land acquisition is unsustainable, still they are entitled to resettlement and rehabilitation as per the policy framed for the oustees of the project; mere payment of compensation would not be enough in case the oustee is unable to purchase the land with the compensation received by him; that in the process of development, the State cannot be permitted to displace tribal people, a vulnerable section of society, suffering from poverty and ignorance, without taking appropriateremedial measures of rehabilitation; that ‘rehabilitation’, is restoration of status of something loss, displaced or even otherwise a grant to secure a dignified mode of life to a person who has nothing to sustain himself and is different from ‘compensation’; that this concept brings within its fold the presence of elements of Article 21 of the Constitution of India; and those who have been rendered destitute, have to be assured a permanent source of basic livelihood to sustain themselves.”

The court also cited another judgment of the Supreme Court interpreting section 30 [Award of solatium] of the Land Acquisition Act, 2013 in Indore Development Authority Vs.Manoharlal and ors:

“93. Undoubtedly the Act of 2013 has provided safeguards, in the form of higher compensation and provisions for rehabilitation, which are necessary. In that light, the court has to interpret its provisions, to give full and meaningful effect to the legislative intent keeping in mind the language and tenor of the provisions, it is not for the court to legislate. The Court can only iron out creases to clear ambiguity. The intended benefit should not be taken away.”

Courts findings

The court observed that the respondent state did not place before the court any agreement signed by the petitioners showing how the price/consideration per acre was arrived at, or for showing that the consent of all the petitioners to accept what was offered to them by the respondents was voluntary, or even to show that petitioners have waived their right to claim compensation for land or structures.” The court also pointed out that the respondents did not file minutes of meetings showing how the consideration offered to the petitioners was arrived at, neither did they file any record of the registration department showing market value of the land. The court highlighted the importance of these missing documents, “Such record is critical to ascertain whether petitioners agreed to part with their lands voluntarily and whether price was arrived at objectively keeping in view the market value/ registration value of neighbouring lands, and as to what the petitioners were made to agree was more beneficial than what they would have got for the land under Act 30 of 2013.”

The court observed, “there is unequal bargaining power between the State actors such as the respondents and the petitioners, who are small farmers.” the court also held that in this case, the state violated the public trust doctrine,

“Since objectivity and transparency are essential elements of exercise of public power which are required to be followed, and we find that in the instant cases there is absence of any evidence of

(a) objective determination of the quantum of consideration and

(b)  transparency in the actions of respondents, we find that the exercise of public power by the respondents is in violation of the public trust doctrine and unconscionable.”

The court perceived this as a case where the petitioners were given no choice but to give their assent to a contract that was “unfair, unreasonable and unconscionable”.

The court deduced that the contentions of the petitioners that the prices were fixed arbitrarily and the states coerced them for parting with their land, had considerable weightage.

The court declared the consent awards to be unenforceable under sections 19 [Voidability of agreements without free consent] and 23 [lawfulness of consideration] of the Indian Contract Act. It further held that the state acted in violation of Article 14 [right to equality] and 300A [Persons not to be deprived of property save by authority of law] of the Indian Constitution.

The court further gave specific directions pertaining to the compensation to be awarded to the petitioners under section 30 of the Land Acquisition Act, 2013 by directing the state to adjust the additional amount payable against the amount already paid instead of recovering the amount already paid. The court also directed the state to give compensation for the structures taken away with the lands such as water pumps, cattle sheds, since the same was not refuted by the state in its affidavit. Lastly, the petitioners were also awarded a lump sum towards rehabilitation and resettlement as per section 31A of the amending Act passed by Telangana state in 2017.

The court directed that the amounts be paid to the petitioners within 3 months.

Importance in Jurisprudence

This judgment of Telangana High Court comes at a very crucial time. The significance of the ratio decidendi or the operative and binding part of the judgement lies in its recognition of the right of farmers or even land owners for lawful compensation as per law and for voluntary dispossession of their land. The Uttar Pradesh government recently decided to ease the land acquisition process in its state in order to promote investment in the post lockdown period. It has been reported that the state is considering amending the revenue code to permit leasing of agricultural and for industrial units or parks while keeping the land use conversion fee from agricultural to industrial to a maximum of 15 to 20%.

In May 2020, the Karnataka Governor gave assent to the Karnataka Land Reforms (Amendment) Bill, 2020 allowing industries to buy land directly from farmers, which will only require permission of the Revenue department, which will be further deemed approved if no red flags are raised within 30 days.

The judgment and the decisions of these two states when juxtaposed, show how the intention of the legislature is being completely disregarded by states to further corporate at the expense of the farmers, while the courts are trying to safeguard and protect the same. The farmers in this case may have been lucky that their grievances were resolved in such a short span of time but many others are awaiting justice for their lands grabbed from them without adequate compensation. Moreover, such decisions by governments are only adding to the woes of fragmented land owners/small farmers.

The complete order can be read here.

 

Related:

Uttar Pradesh to make land acquisition for corporates easier, will maintain land bank

Farmers stood up for basic rights, were shot at, six died: Mandsaur, MP, 2017

MP Forest Department allegedly burns down tribal family's home

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