SEZs: apex court to examine validity of land acquisition

J. Venkatesan

Declines to stay U.P. notification for project in Ghaziabad

Name of Reliance Energy Generation Ltd. deleted as one of the respondents

Bench issues notice to Uttar Pradesh government, Centre

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday indicated that it would examine the validity of acquisition of agricultural lands from farmers for setting up of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in the country.

A three-Judge Bench, comprising Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Justice R.V. Raveendran and Justice J.M. Panchal, however, refused to stay the notification of the Uttar Pradesh government for acquisition of lands from farmers for setting up a power project in Ghaziabad district in Uttar Pradesh.

Senior Counsel Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Anil Dhirubhai Ambani group, submitted before the Bench that the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petition by Sahyog Samiti, representing farmers, said: “It is a Rs. 10,000-crore power project at Dadri. This petition is aimed to hit me [when we are planning to bring our IPO]. I have no problem if my name is deleted.”

The Bench, after considering the plea made on behalf of Anil Ambani’s group, directed the petitioner to delete the name of Reliance Energy Generation Ltd., cited as one of the respondents. The Bench issued notice to the Centre and the Uttar Pradesh government on the petition challenging various provisions of the Land Acquisition (LA) Act and directed the matter to be tagged with similar petitions on which notice had already been ordered.

The petitioner submitted that the PIL raised the substantial question of law of public importance whether fertile land of poor farmers could be allowed to be unilaterally grabbed under the garb of public purpose as provided in the LA Act. It said: “The question gains significance inasmuch as innocent farmers across the country are sought to be deprived of their only source of livelihood under the pretext of industrial and technological development.”

The petitioner said: “The LA Act, which was meant to be a progressive enactment, has unfortunately been converted into an oppressive tool at the hands of vested interests, and the situation has reached such a passé that every year thousands of farmers across the country have chosen to end their lives rather than live a life of oppression, hardship and extreme poverty.”

It said the U.P. government issued a notification in February 2004 for acquisition of thousands of acres from farmers, whose protest against such large scale acquisition had fallen on deaf years. While many farmers gave up their fight and surrendered their lands, others opted to seek judicial intervention, the petitioner said and sought a direction to quash the impugned notification.