‘No profiteering at the cost of farmer’

By TheHindu on 03 May 2017 | read

Even as several prominent private builders have come under suspicion for delayed completion of housing projects, the Supreme Court has declared land a “scarce natural resource” and forbidden the government from using its powers of compulsory land acquisition to strip poor farmers of their livelihood only to transfer such land to private builders to feed their business interests.

Benefiting the rich

Land, acquired in the name of residential or commercial projects, should revert to its rightful owner — the farmer — in case the project does not take off. No third party has any rights on the land, the apex court said.

“There is no objection to acquisition of land for a compelling public purpose or regulated development of colonies, but release of land to a builder who comes into the picture after acquisition notification tantamounts to acquisition for a private purpose.

“It amounts to transfer of resources of the poor for the benefit of the rich. It amounts to permitting profiteering at the cost of livelihood and existence of a farmer,” a Bench of Justices Anil R. Dave and A.K. Goel held in their judgment on May 13.

Violation of rights

The judgment exposes how the Haryana government violated guaranteed fundamental rights of equality and right to property and life by transferring the titles of over 250 acres of land acquired from farmers in Rohtak to a private builder.

The apex court termed the relationship between the Haryana government and private builder, Uddar Gagan Properties Limited, an “unholy nexus.”

Between 2003 and 2005, the Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA) began its acquisition of over 400 acres in Rohtak from farmers for commercial and residential purposes.

At this point of time, the builder surfaced and started buying from farmers land under the threat of acquisition. The builder then applied for grant of licence to develop a colony on 280 acres included in the acquisition notification.

The licences were granted in June 2006 and the corresponding land was released from acquisition. The licences were addressed to the landowners but remitted to the builder.

This was followed by execution of sale deeds in favour of the builder through power of attorney. “The government files deceptively projected the initiative to release land at the instance of farmers and owners while the real fact was to transfer the title of land to the builder,” the court held.

The verdict, by Justice Goel, said it is requirement that a coloniser should own land. Here, he did not own even an “inch of land” and a situation was created to generate a sense of helplessness among the farmers.

The judgment concluded that the builder would never have been able to pull off the transactions on acquired land without assurances from the State. Noting that acquisition of land is a “serious matter,” the apex court held that even the plight of investors in plots and flats on the land in question came secondary to the concern of the farmers.

“If the law allows the State to take land for housing needs, the State itself has to keep the title or dispose of land consistent with Article 14 after completion of acquisition. If after initiation of acquisition, process is not to be completed, land must revert to the owner and not to anyone else directly or indirectly,” the court held.

The Bench ordered that the land be vested back with the HUDA.