KOCHI: The Kerala High Court today set aside an order of a special officer for taking over of vast stretches of land belonging to plantation company Harrisons Malayalam Ltd in the state, observing that the government cannot act like Robin Hood.
A division bench of Justices K Vinod Chandran and Ashok Menon held that the findings based on which the order was given in June, 2016 were "legally unsustainable." It said the 'welfare state' exists for the downtrodden and the marginalised, but it cannot act like Robin Hood, which would be a negation of the democratic principles and blatant flouting of rule of law.
The state government had appointed IAS officer M G Rajamanikyam as the special officer to identify and reclaim all illegal land holdings in possession of various British companies and individuals prior to independence.
He had initiated proceedings to attach land of Harrisons Malayalam Ltd (HML), holding that they were leased out to the company during the British rule.
He passed an order for take over of the land, holding that the company was in illegal possession of the same.
Challenging this, the company moved the high court.
Considering the question of law involved in the case and the importance of the issue, the matter was referred by a single judge bench for the consideration of division bench.
The division bench observed that the findings of the team headed by Rajamanikyam were "legally unsustainable." The officer had made the recommendations in his report on the basis of the allegations under the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA), the Indian Independence Act and the 'fraud' found in his own order, it said.
The order of the officer under the Kerala Land Conservancy (KLC) Act and the allegations of fraud, forgery and collusion arrived at by him were "incompetent", the bench held.
In seeking a CBI investigation as also the involvement of the Enforcement Directorate, the officer had gone beyond the scope and ambit of the powers and authority conferred under the KLC Act, it said.
Welcoming the judgement, the company in a statement here said being in business in the country for over a century, its lands were "legitimately held.
" The company does not have any unauthorised government land as alleged, it said.
"...HML has always been a responsible corporate entity and has approvals/clearances required under law for its land holdings and business," the statement added.