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Land Acquisition Act: No help to farmers

August 17, 2009 11:53 IST
India's plate of fundamental rights is increasing in size. While two more, work and education, have already been added, the right to food is in the process of being added. But do these mean anything?

The last right is perhaps the most vital. Agricultural land being acquired for various purposes is a challenge that has to be dealt with if this right is to become a reality. Otherwise, it will end up meaning subsidised food for the poorest.

Rule 4 in Section 55 of the Land Acquisition Acts Company Rules is a straw that many farmers would like to clutch to save their fertile land from mindless deals that ignore the presence of alternative sites that are unfit for agriculture.

Next week, the Allahabad High Court will hear a case that has a significant relation to the right to food. It is a petition filed by Puran Singh and 400 other farmers challenging acquisition of 2,500 acres of land for setting up a gas-based power plant in Dadri in Uttar Pradesh, a project from the Anil Ambani group.

The acquisition was stayed in January 2008. What saved the case was Rule 4, which obliges every government to enquire about the fertility of any agricultural land that is to be acquired by a company, even for a public purpose.

In this case, the acquisition was said to be for public purpose. But the agreement for acquisition was signed in February 2004 between the state government headed by Mulayam Singh Yadav and Reliance Power for acquisition of land for a project to produce 3,250 Mw. It was entered into at the request of the company, which decided to bear the entire cost. The government issued a notification for acquisition of land.

If the project is for public purpose, there is no need for an agreement, petitioners argue. And if the acquisition was based on an agreement with a company, an enquiry should have been done under Rule 4. The rule also obliges the company to enter into direct negotiations with farmers.

The land is in the doab area, that is, the basin of two merging rivers, in this case Ganga and Yamuna, and considered most fertile.

Today, the gas over which the Ambani brothers are fighting is for a plant for which there is no land legally sanctioned or acquired so far.

The case followed a precedent set by the case of Devender Singh versus State of Punjab in October 2007 in which land acquisition was stayed as Rule 4 was not followed.

In Singur, 1,000 acres fertile land under cultivation was acquired, the Tatas were forced to move out, but the land has not been returned to farmers yet.

Anuradha Talwar, who was heading the protests in Singur for return of land, said the high court rejected the demand for enquiry under Rule 4. The case is now pending in the Supreme Court, where farmers have sought application of Rule 4.

Petitioners in the Dadri case point out how the Tatas applied for 110 acres in Sonebhadra for a gas-based power plant of 1,000 Mw but were denied permission by the same government that allowed Reliance Power to sign a deal for 2,500 acres for a 3,250 Mw plant.

Laws themselves cannot always save rights. They could not help farmers in Singur but are probably assisting farmers in Dadri. The difference is the change in the ruling party in Uttar Pradesh. That leaves the Land Acquisition Act, or its Rule 4, a rather leaking roof on the heads of farmers.

Sreelatha Menon
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