Land acquisition mess: State officials bank on disposed-of litigation for breather to SIEL

  • Prabhjit Singh, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Oct 09, 2014 15:27 IST

The farmers’ litigation against the acquisition of land for an industrial estate 20 years ago has become a ladder for officials of the Punjab industries department in paving way to give a seven-year extension to Sriram Industrial Enterprises Limited (SIEL) to establish the industrial estate on the acquired land.

According to the fresh decision of the Punjab government, the SIEL now ought to accomplish the task by October 2021, which included setting up a captive thermal power plant, chemical manufacturing and other industrial units and developing and marketing the industrial estate to other entrepreneurs on 597 acres.

The 597 acres were transferred in the company’s name in a phased manner in 2000 and 2007, when the litigation against the acquisition of the entire 1,100 acres was still being heard in the Punjab and Haryana high court.

The high court had disposed of the writ petition in October 2011 and some 600 acres of the total 1,084 acres acquired in 1994 de-notified back to the farmers’ possession till then.

Paving the way

The then state’s collector for land acquisition (CLA) Gurdev Singh Ghuman had drafted the noting for giving the extension to SIEL, and submitted it to the industries department on June 10, 2014, saying, “The challenge in the writ petition (CWP 5715 of 1995) was to the entire land acquisition process.

Hence, whole of the land was not unencumbered. Moreover, the conveyance deeds executed to the company (SIEL) was also subject to the outcome of the writ petition. Hence, it is amply clear that the entire land was encumbered till the high court disposed of the writ petition in 2011.”

The CLA pointed out that the extension was being sought by the company on the basis of the entire period of the litigation that had challenged the entire land acquisition project and, thus, was a blockade for the upcoming project.

The noting also listed the “efforts made by the company to develop the industrial estate”. “This third-party litigation gave rise to a situation during which both the state of Punjab and SIEL were constrained and prevented from the timely performance of their mutual obligations contained in the MoU (signed in October 1993),” it added.

It was in 2000 and then in 2006 that the industries department had signed the conveyance deeds with SIEL, when the litigation was on, transferring the unchallenged 597 acres to the company’s possession.

The deeds, however, had a clause, “This deed is subject to the outcome of the pending litigation.”

Industries minister Madan Mohan Mittal had signed the letter for the “10-year extension with effect from October 2011” on June 24, 2014, as a follow-up action in the wake of the noting that was signed by principal secretary industries DP Reddy on June 17, 2014.

Sources in the industries department told HT that there was earlier a move to prepare a detailed memorandum on the issue as an agenda for the state cabinet meeting to decide the fate of the land in question. A meeting in this regard was held in May 2014, sources said.

The protest

At the faraway Khadoli village near Rajpura, the Ujara Roku Sangharsh Committee of the uprooted farmers has scheduled a “massive protest” in the form of a dharna on October 19.

Aam Aadmi Party MP Dharamvira Gandhi and different farmers’ organisations, including the All India Kisan Federation (AIKF) and Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ekta) will address the protest rally, demanding the immediate restoration of the entire land that now stood barren with wild growth in the absence of any development there.

Last week, AIKF president Prem Singh Bhangu held a meeting of the affected villagers at Khadoli, confirming the October 19 protest rally. Bhangu has been instrumental in the entire legal and political battle against the land acquisition for over a decade now.

Gandhi was the lone candidate among the major party candidates to address the protesting farmers at Khadoli during the parliamentary elections, as he had then assured them of carrying forward the “fight for the restoration of the land back to the farmers” as an MP as well.

Confirming the October 19 protest rally, Gandhi cited the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Settlement Act, 2013, as the new legislation under which the state had to restore the land in question back to the farmers.

“I will take up the matter in Parliament also, as such kind of land acquisition processes are helping the corporate sector in accumulating the land at the cost of the farmers and harming the country’s agriculture sector,” Gandhi said.

The farmers of Khadoli and other affected villages regretted that neither the Congress nor the ruling SAD and BJP had joined their cause.

“We have earlier been blocking the highway (Patiala-Chandigarh) with Capt Kanwaljit Singh (of the SAD), who is no more, leading the protest at the time of the land acquisition (in 1994-95), but later no leader of these big parties listened to us after they came to power,” said a local farmer.

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