The Supreme Court (SC) has increased the compensation amount in every six out of 10 cases of land acquisition where the compensation awarded for land by the government was challenged by the landowners. In several cases, the final award decided by the court was as high as 10 times of the original award, indicating how niggardly the governments have been compensating the landowners for their land.
The findings have come out from an analysis of all reported SC judgements dealing with land acquisition cases across the country between 1950 and 2015, carried out by the New Delhi-based think tank Centre for Policy Research (CPR). Of the total 1369 land acquisition disputes adjudicated by the apex court over this period, the two biggest issues were compensation for land acquired, and the procedure by which the government had acquired land, either for itself or for a private company. Compensation was an issue in 58 per cent of the cases. In two third of the compensation cases, the government’s ways of calculating compensation were challenged.
In a sample review of the compensation cases, the study found that in almost half the cases, the final award was more than four times of what the government had calculated originally. In one-fourth of the cases the final award was more than ten times the original value. In at least one case, the final settlement went as high as hundred times.
“Clearly the government machinery has not been assessing the market value of the land fairly. If the courts are increasing compensation based on the evidence adduced by the parties, it is not clear why the government did not consider those facts in determining compensation in the first place. In nearly all compensation cases, the lower courts ended up increasing original government award,” said Namita Wahi, Fellow at CPR, who led the study.
Land acquisition has been a hot-button issue before the current NDA government, which, last year, tried to bring amendments in the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (LARR Act), enacted by Parliament under the UPA government. The NDA government wanted to do away with the consent of landowners and the social impact assessment provisions of the law to make the process of acquisition faster and smoother. The amendments were halted due to protest from farmers’ groups and opposition parties. The centre then asked the states to bring their own versions of the law by amending the central law. Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Rajasthan have already come out with amended laws.
The study found that in almost 80 per cent of the disputes, land was acquired under the Land Acquisition Act of 1894, which mandated the government to pay the market value of the land to the landowners. In case the acquisition was on behalf of a company, the company had to pay the compensation. The law has now been replaced by LARR Act that provides for an increase in compensation to twice the value of average of registered sale deeds in urban areas and four times in rural areas.
But this may not bring down the land disputes, feels Wahi. “In a significant number of cases, the courts have awarded compensation up to 10 times the original amount calculated by authorities. Thus four times compensation may not deter landowners from approaching the court unless the government starts assessing compensation based on the fair value of the land,” added Wahi.
In 2014, a quarter of India’s districts were embroiled in ongoing legal and political conflicts over land acquisition, said a study by Washington-based think tank Rights and Resources Initiative. While several big-ticket projects have got embroiled in legal battles post enactment of LARR Act, 2013, they have not been reflected in the CPR study as it takes years for the cases to reach final decision in the courts. The study showed the maximum number of land acquisition cases decided by the Supreme Court were from Uttar Pradesh (11%) followed by Maharashtra (8.6%), Karnataka (8.3%), Haryana (8%) and Punjab (7.7%) (See Graph). The purposes for which maximum land acquisition disputes were recorded, included, planned development (21.4%) followed by Industrial parks and factories (11%), housing projects (9.5%), defence (6.5%) land reforms (5.6%), and highways, roads and bridges (4.7%).