Apex court empathizes with land losing farmers

February 23rd, 2009 - 12:45 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Feb 23 (IANS) Empathising with farmers who are caught in legal tangles after their lands are acquired by the government, the Supreme Court has recommended “prompt payment of realistic compensation with appropriate rehabilitation measures” for such farmers.
“Unless some effort is made by the government to ensure prompt payment of realistic compensation with appropriate rehabilitation measures, land acquisitions lead to great tragedy and ruination of poor families,” said a bench of Justice R.V. Raveendran and Justice J.M. Panchal in a verdict delivered Feb 9, but released later.

The bench empathised with the farmers who lose their lands to the government through the acquisition process, while dismissing a Karnataka government lawsuit challenging the state high court’s ruling that enhanced the compensation to a farmer to a little around Rs.40,000 from a paltry sum of Rs.5,300 for over an acre of land.

For one acre and 13 gunta of his land the state government acquired in Dec 1990, farmer Mahaboob of a north Karnataka district was paid in September 1991 a paltry sum of Rs.4,000 per acre as compensation. A lower court enhanced the amount to around Rs.40,000.

The Karnataka High Court endorsed the lower court’s ruling, but the state moved the apex court questioning the enhanced compensation.

The apex court was stunned at the government carrying the legal fight all the way to its door against the enhanced compensation for the acquired lands since the compensation amounts have remained abysmally low.

“The Land Acquisition Officer awarded a sum of Rs.4,000 per acre which is about nine paise per sq.ft. Not much argument is needed to show that the compensation was very low,” said the bench.

“Having lost his land, and consequently the means of livelihood, the land loser had to engage a lawyer and wage a legal fight for a reasonable compensation,” the bench observed.

“But the land loser was not given the enhanced compensation and the state government instead went on filing appeal after appeals,” the bench said.

“The result is except the paltry amount which he should have received in 1991, the land loser has not received any compensation for nearly 17 years and had to fight the litigation before three courts for a total compensation of Rs.40,000,” the apex court stressed.

“Apart from the fact that the land loser would have spent virtually the entire amount for litigation, whatever amount he may ultimately receive will not get him even one-fourth or one-fifth of the extent of land which he lost by acquisition,” ruled the bench.

“Unless the process of acquisition gives him a reasonable compensation either at the time of or immediately after the dispossession, the compensation will be a mirage for most land losers,” the bench ruled.

“Statistics show that most of the acquisitions relate to lands held by small farmers, whose livelihood depends upon the acquired land, while land acquisition officer (LAO) is supposed to offer a fair compensation taking all relevant circumstances relating to market value into account,” pointed out the bench.

“But the LAO, in practice, seldom makes reasonable offers. They tend to err on the `safer’ side and invariably assess very low compensation. Such meagre awards force the land loser to resort to an endless round of litigation for a just and fair compensation,” the bench pointed out.

“To safeguard the interests of the land loser, the law requires that compensation be given before the land owner is dispossessed. The intention is that the land loser will immediately be able to purchase some other suitable land or make appropriate arrangements for his livelihood,” noted the bench, adding that even this aspect of law is not observed.

“The land losers seldom get a substantial portion of proper compensation for their land in one lump sum immediately after the acquisition,” the court rued.

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