A plea seeking return of unused land acquired for setting up of special economic zones to farmers and a court-monitored CBI probe into alleged flouting of SEZ rules by beneficiary corporates, today led the Supreme Court to seek responses from the Centre and seven states.
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A bench of Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justices D Y Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao issued notice to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and states of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharastra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Punjab, on the PIL which alleged that almost 80 per cent of the land acquired for the SEZs were lying unused.
The plea alleged that in last five years alone, 4,842.38 hectares of land was acquired for various SEZs and only 362 hectares were utilised, leaving around 4,480 hectares unused.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves and lawyer Sravan Kumar, appearing for ‘SEZ Farmers Protection, Welfare Association’, referred to a CAG report of 2012-13 and said not only have the farmers been deprived of their land, but also consequential benefits like employment generation and industrialisation of the acquired areas have not taken place.
Some companies, for whose SEZs the plots of land were acquired, raised loans by mortgaging the land documents as collateral securities with banks, but strangely did not use the loan money to develop these SEZs, the PIL said.
“Issue writ…or direction directing investigation under the supervision of this court by the Central Bureau of Investigation on violations, diversion of loan money obtained by SEZ holders against the SEZ rules,” it said.
The farmers’ body also sought intiation of civil and criminal proceedings against the holders of land, meant for SEZs, for “not performing the obligatory duty under the contract resulting to unemployment, wastage of natural resources, causing loss to food security”.
Besides returning “vacant, unused land to farmers”, the plea also sought declaring of the land acquisition as “unconstitutional”, being violative of fundamental right to life and equality on the ground that they have caused “joblessness to the farmers, agricultural labour”.
The plea has sought a direction to the Centre and the states to conduct “comprehensive social impact study” on the affected farmers and their dependents on account of land acquisition for SEZs.
Quoting Rajya Sabha proceedings, the PIL said “now the government has also admitted to the fact in the Rajya Sabha that as high as 40 per cent of the total land acquired for SEZ across 20 states of the country remained unutilised up to March 13, 2015.”
“In four states, 100 per cent of the SEZ land acquired remains unutilised, while in seven out of 20 states 50 per cent of the total land acquired under SEZ remains unutilised,” it said.
“The states with 100 per cent unutilised are Nagaland, Manipur, Goa and Jharkhand. Some of the states with high rate of unutilised SEZ lands include Chhattisgarh (78.24 per cent), Haryana (70.69 per cent), Rajasthan (82.31 per cent), Uttar Pradesh (63.24 per cent), Tamil Nadu (53.08 per cent), Punjab (67.04 per cent), Chandigarh (59.60 per cent),” it said.
Over 77 per cent of notified SEZ land is concentrated in four states of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, it said, adding these states have acquired 35,415 hectares of land out of 45,782 hectares of total land acquired by the 20 states.
The NGO in its PIL also referred to the apex court judgement in the Singur case and sought judicial intervention in getting necessary reliefs like “compensation for keeping the land vacant for a long time and return of the land to tribals, farmers and other weaker sections of the society suffering from the harsh effects of unnecessary, unmindful and unwarranted land acquisition by the government in the name of creating Special Economic Zones”.
It said the SEZ law was framed to ensure “generation of additional economic activity”, “promotion of exports of goods and services”, “promotion of investment from domestic and foreign sources” and creation of employment opportunities.
However, the desired results have not been achieved, it said.