The Supreme Court has asked the Centre and all the states and union territories to explain whether they were misusing the Land Acquisition Act 1894 to acquire agricultural land for Special Economic Zones to favour big corporations after a farmers’ group challenged the main provisions of the archaic law.
The Karnataka Landless Farmers’ Association and four others has petitioned the court challenging the Act that authorises the government to acquire agricultural land for public purposes.
Alleging that the British-time Act was being misused for grabbing cultivators’ land in the ‘guise of public purpose’, the petitioners requested the court to restrain the Centre, states and union territories from initiating proceedings for acquiring farmers’ land for private builders, developers and industrialists. They further urged the court to direct the government to rehabilitate all the displaced farmers whose lands have been acquired recently or are likely to be acquired in future.
A three-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan issued notices to the Centre, states and union territories asking them to respond to the issues raised by the petitioners, including the allegation that the the Act was being misused to acquire huge tracts of land for private builders, developers and industrialists denuding poor farmers of their agricultural land and livelihood forcing them to commit mass suicides.
Terming this phenomenon as "developmental terrorism", the petition challenged Sections 3(f), 4 and 6 of the Act, which were allegedly being misused across the country to deprive farmers of several lakh acres of land at the instance of builders and industrialists.
"A strategy under which the State allies with corporations who dispossesses people of their livelihood is nothing but developmental terrorism irrespective of any political label of political parties in office," the petitioners alleged.
They pointed out that under the Special Economic Zones Act, 2005 until September 2006, the Board of Approvals Committee of the Ministry of Commerce Ministry had approved 267 SEZ projects all over India and the land area of each of these projects "deemed foreign territories" ranged from 1,000 to 1,400 hectares. However, so far for only 67 multi-product SEZs 1,34,000 hectares land has been acquired, mostly by State Industrial Development Corporations, they said.
Similarly, mining rights are also being granted to the corporations mostly over tribal land, the petitioners submitted.
The pre-independence Act, enacted by the Britishers in India, has become a tool for land mafias and land grabbers to grab agricultural land of poor farmers for their economic gains, they said in the petition.