In the light of the Uttarakhand devastation, justice V Gopala Gowda of the Supreme Court on Saturday cautioned the governments about the ill effects of forcible eviction of people from their lands by using powers under the Land Acquisition Act. Uttarakhand devastation is the latest proof of the dangerous consequences of indiscriminate acquisition of greener lands in the name of development and to hand them over to private companies for activities like mining, he warned.
Delivering the 10th Gutta Sri Rama Rao memorial lecture at NALSAR conference hall, justice Gowda said that though the country had attained political freedom long back and the relationship between the governing and the governed had changed, the Land Acquisition Act did not change much. “It has become a trend for the governments to acquire huge tracts of land in the name of development and thereby rendering vast number of poorer people impoverished,’’ he said and reminded the governments that the preamble to the Constitution that has made social and economic justice a basic feature of the Constitution. Right to life of a person is inseparable from the right to livelihood.
The Supreme Court judge further said that by taking away land from the people, the governments were actually taking away their livelihood and the courts should stand accountable to the people in this regard. “Even in cases where the acquisition is compulsory, we have to ensure that the livelihoods of the people remain intact. There is a need to have a check on indiscriminate projections of private players about their land requirements for their projects. Where is the need for the government to acquire thousands of acres of land for private companies?, the judge asked.
Justice Gopala Gowda opined that the land allotments done by the states should be in proportion to the industrial needs of the companies concerned. Mere invoking of words like public purpose before slapping a land acquisition was not enough, but it has to pass several Constitutional tests. The judge hoped that the new Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation Act would meet the growing aspirations and the changed circumstances.
Chief justice of AP High Court justice Kalyan Jyoti Sengupta, who presided over the meeting, said that in the current factual matrix pertaining to land acquisition, the issue of livelihoods and the impoverishments being caused by loss of such livelihoods was still a grey area which needs to be defined clearly and the need to put a proper mechanism to attend to such situations was still there.
Referring to Singur land acquisition controversy, Justice Sengupta questioned the rationale of the authorities who identified the land of the Singur for Tata’s car factory. These lands were so fertile that they gave three crops in a year and they were proposed to be handed over to the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation for leasing them to the Tata group. The state had deprived 10 lakh people of their livelihood for a factory that would at best provide 10,000 jobs. Barren lands should have been chosen for the purpose. The chief justice stressed the need for the governments to adopt a more judicious methods of acquiring and allotting lands.
The lecture was organised in memory of Gutta Sri Rama Rao, who practised law in the Supreme Court from 1964 to 1984 and whose trust, Gutta Sri Rama Rao Educational and Charitable Trust, helps law students desirous of pursuing advanced studies.
GKB Chowdary, the youngest son of Sri Rama Rao, said that for the past decade lands had been being acquired from people in the name of industrial zones and allotted to companies most of which used them for real estate ventures. This created discontent in people who gave away their lands, he explained.
Faizan Mustafa, vice-chancellor of Nalsar University of Law, said the human face of development had been missing for the past couple of years.