A day after it accused states of running a sinister campaign to "grab" the land of poor farmers, the Supreme Court on Wednesday dealt a big blow to the Mayawati government in Uttar Pradesh by quashing a 2007 notification to acquire 156.3 hectares of land in Greater Noida.
A bench of justices GS Singhvi and AK Ganguly also imposed a Rs. 10 lakh fine on the Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority (GNIDA) and directed it to return the land to its original owners.
Coming up on that land, in the Shahberi village area, is an "affordable residential hub", popularly known as Noida Extension.
Some 6,500 families have invested around Rs. 100 crore in flats in high-rise residential apartments being built by prominent builders such as Supertech, Amrapali and Gaursons.
Though construction in most projects is yet to begin, the companies have been advertising extensively.
Dismissing a bunch of appeals filed by GNIDA and builders challenging a May 12 Allahabad high court verdict quashing the land acquisition, the SC bench said, "GNIDA allotted the land to builders in violation of what the land was acquired for."
The land was originally acquired for "industrial purpose" and the agency invoked the emergency clause for this, thereby denying land-owners the right to file objections.
However, GNIDA later changed the land-use to residential to facilitate the sale of the land to builders.
Reacting to the SC order, an apex body of realtors assured affected flat owners that they would either be accommodated in other projects or their money refunded.
Apart from Shahberi, the high court had quashed the invocation of emergency clause to acquire 72 hectares in Surajpur and 170 hectares in Gulistanpur villages too. But in these cases, the court had not set aside the land acquisition.
If GNIDA does not appeal against this decision, it will have to invite objections from land-owners before passing a final order to acquire their land.
Advocate P Narasimhan, appearing for the Shahberi land-owners, said: "The time has come for redefining public purpose for land acquisition. Public purpose is only when there is access for the entire public to the benefits arising out of the acquisition, and for this the public trust doctrine must be applied."