The Madras High Court on August 2, 2023 ordered ₹40,000 in compensation per acre to 88 farmers whose paddy crop, raised unauthorisedly on land acquired many years ago for Neyveli Lignite Corporation India Limited (NLCIL) expansion, were damaged recently for the diversion of the Upper Paravanar Canal at Valayamadevi in Cuddalore district to prevent flooding of the lignite mines during the monsoon.
Justice S.M. Subramaniam also directed the Cuddalore Collector to ensure that the compensation amount is handed over to the farmers concerned by Sunday. Earlier, Additional Solicitor-General AR.L. Sundaresan, representing NLCIL, told the court that the corporation had already deposited the compensation amount due to 54 farmers, at the rate of ₹30,000 per acre, with the district administration.
He said the compensation due to the rest of the farmers would be deposited immediately. Additional Advocate-General J. Ravindran said the government generally pays compensation of only ₹15,000 per acre for crops damaged due to nature’s fury. However, in the present case, the farmers had been offered double the amount despite their having trespassed into NLCIL land for cultivation.
However, advocate K. Balu, representing one of the farmers V. Murugan who had filed a writ petition complaining of the standing crops having been cleared with earthmovers, said the farmers had actually suffered a loss of around ₹83,000 per acre. “Around 60 bags of paddy can be cultivated in one acre of land. Each bag sells for ₹1,350. Therefore, the offer of ₹30,000 for every acre is very less,” he told the judge.
After hearing them, the judge said the liability for the loss should be borne at the rate of 50:50 by the farmers as well as NLCIL since the former had no right to trespass into the land acquired from them long ago and the latter had failed to prevent the farmers from cultivating their produce on the land. Therefore, applying the test of reasonableness, he ordered payment of ₹40,000 per acre.
“Once the lands are acquired by following due procedure, the erstwhile landowners can neither claim any right over the property nor enter into it and cultivate. Such entry is to be construed as trespass. However, in the present case NLC has not effectively prevented the erstwhile landowners from cultivating and it is brought to notice that cultivation has been going on for many years,” the judge wrote.
Though there was no dispute on the legal proposition that on completion of the acquisition process, the land would absolutely vest with the government, the judge decided to take a balanced approach in view of the peculiar circumstance in the present case in which the farmers had been allowed to cultivate on the acquired land for many years and their standing crops had been damaged now with earthmovers.
In so far as the existing crops on 264 hectares of land that had been acquired for NLC, outside the Paravanur division, was concerned, the judge recorded the submission of Collector A. Arun Thamburaj that all those farmers would be granted time till September 15 for harvesting the crops. Thereafter, NLCIL would be entitled to protect the acquired land and there shall not be any further cultivation thereon, he ordered.
“If at all, the erstwhile landowners attempt to create any law and order issue in that locality, the State government is duty bound to institute appropriate action to maintain peace and tranquillity,” the judge observed in his interim order and adjourned the writ petition to Monday for further hearing.