After Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), two more private firms — Essar Steel India Limited and Sidhee Cement Limited — have approached the Gujarat High Court, challenging a section of the 2013 land acquisition Act that deals with fair compensation and rehabilitation.
A division bench of the High Court led by Chief Justice R Subhash Reddy had last week issued notice to the state and the Union governments in Essar’s petition, while Sidhee Cement’s plea would be likely heard in the first week of May, along with other petitions.
All the three petitioner companies are similarly placed — land was acquired, but they didn’t get physical possession in time. And, in the meanwhile, Section 24 (2) of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act of 2013 came into force on January 1, 2014.
The section states that if land was acquired under the earlier 1894 Act five years or more before the new Act came into effect – this happened on January 1, 2014 – and if physical possession was not taken or compensation not paid, then the acquisition will be deemed lapsed.
Following the implementation of the 2013 Act, several land owners, whose land was acquired five years or beyond before the new Act came in effect, but remained in their possession, have approached the High Court seeking to cancel the acquisition citing the clause.
In many cases, the land owners have not been paid compensation and the money is lying with government treasuries.
In the case of RIL, it had acquired land for SEZ in Jamnagar in 2008, while Sidhee Cement, part of Saurashtra Cement Limited, had acquired land in 1991 for mining limestone in Gir-Somanth district. Essar had acquired land in Surat. But, they didn’t get the possession of land reportedly due to “red tapism.”
All the three companies have challenged the implementation of Section-24 (2), claiming it was “unconstitutional.” The companies claimed that they followed the procedure and deposited the amount before the concerned authorities, but the government reportedly failed to distribute it to the land owners despite repeated reminders.
In response to the RIL petition, the Union government had filed an affidavit in February, stating that “the object of the said provision is to see that the incomplete acquisitions may not be governed by the old LAQ Act, 1894 and the persons whose land were under contemplation of acquisition under the old LAQ Act, 1894, may not be discriminated and they also be given benefit of the new Act”.
It said further: “Legislation was conscious of situation that may arise due to lapse of acquisition for minor part and that is why the legislature has specifically provided that it would be open for the Government to initiate the proceedings of such land acquisition afresh in accordance with the provisions of the new Act.”