THE Supreme Court held in 2011 that in the name of globalisation and development, the government is transforming poor land owners into marginalised people by acquiring their “mother earth”. This seems to have been proven correct in the case of Congress-ruled Haryana. No wonder then that the people label Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s government as that of “property dealers” or “land grabbers”.
“In fact, it’s a land grabbing State and the land acquisition law is an engine of oppression,’’ a bench of Justices (both retired now) GS Singhvi and AK Ganguly observed while questioning the implementation of the law. Though the observation was squarely pointed at the ousted BSP chief Mayawati’s government, judges saw ill-motive in acquisition of land by different State governments, regardless of their hue—saffron, blue or green.
“The State should protect the common man’s right, but it’s the other way around. We can understand if the State is building canals, barrages, etc., but you are building malls, hotels, commercial townships,’’ the top court expressed its anguish as it lambasted the State. “Residential area for whom? Those people whose land was taken away, were they not needy? You think judges are living in a fool’s paradise?”
“The State is driving out poor people. This is a sinister campaign by many State governments. It is anti-people,” the top court added.In the light of the principle established by the apex court, the Punjab and Haryana High Court had the occasion to pierce the balloon of development and infrastructure that had been inflated by Hooda and his aides. It examined the facts and heard what the Haryana government had to say in defence of acquisition of about 1,400 acres of land spread in eight villages adjoining high-cost Gurgaon in 2009, a fact that a public spirited person, Dev Dutt, had brought to the court’s attention. There were several aggrieved farmers who had sought the court’s protection.
In 2010, the Hooda government had released around 95 per cent of the acquired land to private builders and even granted licences to some for developing housing projects there.
It rubbished the government’s claim that it’s under obligation to execute “external development” under the Land Acquisition Act, and held that the Act does not cast any obligation on the State or the local authority like the Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA), to provide external development works. “They can at best opt for executing such works at the cost and on the land set apart by the coloniser for such works. Not an inch of land is to be made available, or to be acquired by the State, for the execution of external development works as the Act obligates the coloniser to set apart the lands for these works,” a bench of Justices Surya Kant and Surinder Gupta said in the landmark verdict.
Judges also passed severe strictures on the Hooda government, saying: “The ulterior object behind acquiring land for public utilities is to enable the private builders in exploiting commercially every inch of their own land and maximising their profits.”
In 2010, Hooda government had released around 95 per cent of the acquired land to private builders and even granted licences to some for developing housing projects
The land in question, belonging to small farmers, was “forcibly taken away for those very purposes. The allegations made by the farmers that their land has been acquired by giving mischievous and self-serving interpretation to the 1975 Act so as to give undue favour to the private builders-cum-colonisers, thus, carry weight,” the judges added.
THERE’S little doubt now that the Hooda government nurtured the land mafia and this fact has been pointed out by the High Court also. “The petitioners appear to be right in contending that since they did not come under the pressure tactics of the land mafia prowling in the area, their lands have been usurped out of vengeance.”
In doing so, the State machinery “bent over backwards to favour the private colonisers” to such an extent that even though the 1975 Act empowers it to recover the entire cost of external development works, including cost of land from the beneficiary colonisers, yet the landowners were denied appropriate compensation. The colonisers too did not pay a penny—the entire burden was passed on to the plot-holders/allottees.
The State action, thus, is ex facie unjust, unfair, arbitrary, whimsical and directly in the teeth of Article 14 (discriminatory) of the Constitution, the High Court ruled and also rubbished the Hooda government’s claim that the acquired land was
Hooda’s public interest farce
THE laudable judgment was a fallout of a batch of petitions filed by farmers whose land had been “arbitrarily” acquired and residents whose houses were also taken over by the Haryana government under the garb of “public purpose”. They had sought quashing of notifications dated June 2, 2009, and June 2, 2010, under Sections 4 and 6 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, relating to their land which was acquired for “development”. They had also sought to summon the records of the lands. It was alleged that the Haryana government’s notifications, covering about 1,400 acres of prime land in Gurgaon and its adjacent areas, were “discriminatory, mala fide” and “colourable exercise of power” to benefit big developers and others close to the powers that be. The HC judgment also recorded the averments made by the aggrieved petitioners, highlighting that a large tract of land was proposed to be acquired so as to “scare them away and put them under the psycho fear of losing their ancestral lands not even for peanuts.” “The other seemingly better option was to enter into ‘collaboration’ or ‘sale agreements’ with the private builders, or other affluent persons.” No sooner did “such agreements take place than the land proposed or declared for acquisition was released in favour of the builder companies and individuals.”
ASSUMING it to be correct, the discrimination in invoking the forcible acquisition by the Hooda government was “writ large as the fact that huge chunks of vacant land had also been released is undeniable”.
“The land is being expropriated only because they (owners) refused to come to the terms unilaterally dictated to them by the State-sponsored developers,” it held.
As the Haryana government sought to justify its illegal action, saying the land owners were poor and by acquiring their land for “public purpose” enormous good was done to them and society, the High Court slammed the government, saying: “Poverty is a curse is true. But how can a welfare State deny the release of property (to owners) only because their houses are poorly constructed or are of ‘C’ class construction (poor)”. It may be pointed out that the apex court has repeatedly held that for the purpose of releasing or acquiring a property, there can be “no classification, like A, B or C class constructions”.
Recently, the Hooda government had received flak from the top court for being ruthless in acquiring land by indulging in fraud with its owner in Sonepat.
“This is one of the reasons why farmers, who are deprived of their holdings, commit suicide. It also appears that the concerned authorities are totally unmindful of the plight of those sections of the society who are deprived of their only asset like small house, small industrial unit, etc,” a bench of Justices GS Singhvi and SudhansuJyotiMukhopadhaya said. The government was asked to pay a cost of `2.50 lakh for “illegally taking over the land of Raghubir Singh Sehrawat” by “fabricating” the revenue records and “forging” the signatures of Sehrawat’s illiterate wife, Moorti Devi, to show that she had attended the pre-acquisition proceedings.
To add another ‘feather’ to the cap of the Haryana government, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) also reveals that during 2012-13, the Haryana Revenue Department accepted underassessment and other deficiencies worth `8.16 crore, involving 707 cases, out of which `8.14 crore, involving 686 cases, were pointed out during the year and the rest in earlier years. The Department recovered only `2.52 lakh in 21 cases pointed out in earlier years.
The Haryana governmentsought to justify its illegal action, saying the landowners were poor and byacquiring their land for “public purpose”, enormousgood was done to them and society. The HC slammedthe government on this
The CAG also noticed that 228 collaboration agreements, relating to six districts, were registered between June 2007 and March 2013 in respect of land on which stamp duty (SD) and registration fee (RF) of `1.66 lakh were levied, not involving the sale of land. Scrutiny of these agreements revealed that the land owners authorised the developers to take possession of the land with the right to construct, build shops-cum-flats and residential houses in exchange for a share of the developed land and/or receive part payments.
THE developers were entitled to dispose of their shares of developed land in such a manner as they deemed fit, without requiring any consent from the owners.
Hence, the development right/collaboration agreements were conveyance deeds and were liable to pay SD on the sale of property in respect of the developers’ share of land. As per rates fixed by the Collector, total value of land transferred to the developers worked out to `1,190.76 crore on which SD and RF of `60.41 crore was leviable. However, the registering authorities mis-classified these documents as agreement to sell, charging a pathetically low SD of `1.66 lakh.
The CAG also exposed another scandal relating to revenue jugglery. Between 2007-08 and 2011-12, the Haryana government accepted audit observations involving revenue of `2,107.11 crore, out of which an amount of `10.72 crore was recovered till March 31, 2013. The recovery in respect of the accepted cases was 0.51 per cent only, which indicated lack of adequate action to enforce recoveries, the CAG says.
Meanwhile, on April 14, the Supreme Court will take a final call on the law suits filed by HUDA and some realty and infrastructure developers, who are aggrieved by the HC judgment quashing the acquisition of 1,400 acres of land by the Hooda government in 2009.