Land acquisition SC says dispossessed denied proper justice

Taking note of ineffective implementation of laws towards the dispossessed and marginalised sections of society, the Supreme Court has called for a report from the Claims Commission on the issue of denial of compensation to the dispossessed whose land were acquired for mining purposes in Orissa way back in 1987.

“There are various studies that detail the impact of dispossession from their lands on tribal people. It is pointed out that even when laws relating to land acquisition and resettlement are implemented perfectly and comprehensively (and that happens rarely!), uncomfortable questions remain. For a people whose lives and livelihoods are intrinsically connected to the land, the economic and cultural shift to a market economy can be traumatic,” said a bench comprising Justices Aftab Alam and BS Chauhan.

The court perused prevalence of Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act, 1957, the Indian Forest Act, 927, the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, (in many states) laws restricting and regulating trade in forest produce and the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, and its clone the Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Act, 1957, that envisage compulsory acquisition of land by the government for any public purpose on payment of its market value (plus solatium for the compulsory nature of acquisition!) to the land holder. However, on many occasions such laws are implemented only partially, it said.

The scheme of land acquisition often comes with assurances of schools, hospitals, roads and employment. The initial promises, however, mostly remain illusory. The aims of income restoration and house resettlement prove to be very difficult. Non-compliance with even the basic regulations causes serious health problems for the local population and contamination of soil and water, the court remarked.
Justice Alam, writing the order for the bench, raised several pertinent questions on the issue of developmental model being followed.

Mahanadi Coalfields, one of the subsidiaries of Coal India, had come to the apex court challenging an Orissa High Court order. The high court had asked the Centre and the coal company to proceed forthwith in accordance with the provisions of the [Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Act, 1957, to determine the compensation payable to the land owners.

The Central government had issued the preliminary notification under section 4(1) of the Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Act, 1957, on February 11, 1987, giving notice of its intention to prospect for coal in village Gopalpur of district Sundergarh in Orissa. This was followed by another notification giving notice of the government’s intention to acquire the notified lands. The government vested the right of the acquired land in the coal company.

Such acquisition was challenged by the land owners claiming they were not paid compensation.

The coal company, however, took the stand that such lands were not required by it and it proposed denotification of those lands after more than twenty years of such acquisitions.

The government, however, had said that the coal company’s proposal for denotification was rejected by the order of September 12, 2006. On May 13, solicitor general Gopal Subramanium had informed SC that the Centre and the coal company had agreed to a scheme to resolve the issue of compensation to be paid to the land owners for which a Claims Commission will be set up. The court, however asked the panel to submit a report for approval and further directions in the matter instead to the government that was proposed under the scheme.

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