Land acquisition law challenged in court

The Supreme Court on Monday decided to examine a plea challenging the legality of amendments brought in by Tamil Nadu and four other States, which allow authorities to bypass the need to take farmers’ consent before their land is acquired for large infrastructure projects. A Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta issued notice to the Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Jharkhand governments for amending their land acquisition laws to the extent that consent of farmers or land owners is not required before their land is acquired for projects like industrial corridors, expressways and highways. The petition filed by activist Medha Patkar, represented by advocate Prashant Bhushan, said the States allow land acquisition without participation of representative local bodies like gram sabha in social impact assessment studies, without expert appraisal processes, public hearings, objections, and safeguard provisions to ensure food security. The petition said the amendments violate the “core spirit” of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act of 2013. It mandates that 70% of the affected land owners should consent to the acquisition of land for a public private participation project. The 2013 Act replaced its colonial predecessor of 1894 and was intended to uphold the farmers’ right to dignity and life. “The States have removed the consent clause of PPP, paving the way for many private projects that are running under the garb of PPP. Tax payers’ money is spent while acquiring land and creating infrastructure but private players take away the maximum share at the profit-making stage,” Ms. Patkar argued. Mr. Bhushan submitted in the court that the amendments — which “emasculate” the 2013 Act — brought by the States were similar to a Central Ordinance promulgated in December 2014. The Ordinance eventually lapsed in August 2015, following which, the “stage shifted to the States.”

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