24,000 hectares leased ‘for a song’,HC issues notices

The Gujarat High Court has issued notices to the state government,the forest department and Archean Chemicals,a private company,asking them to respond to a draft amendment to a petition filed by an Ahmedabad-based non-profit organisation challenging allocation of more than 24,000 hectares of land to the company in the Great Rann of Kutch in an area that borders the Banni Grasslands,a protected forest.

Written by Express News Service | Ahmedabad | Published: April 4, 2012 3:51:39 am

The Gujarat High Court has issued notices to the state government,the forest department and Archean Chemicals,a private company,asking them to respond to a draft amendment to a petition filed by an Ahmedabad-based non-profit organisation challenging allocation of more than 24,000 hectares of land to the company in the Great Rann of Kutch in an area that borders the Banni Grasslands,a protected forest.

Notices have also been issued to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and the Defence Ministry.

The HC has allowed the amendment that,citing a recent Supreme Court ruling on the auctioning of resources in the 2G scam case,prays that a land lease order issued by Kutch district collector in 2010 be scrapped because it was done “without giving any opportunity to others to bid for the same”.

The amendment filed by advocate Amit Panchal on behalf of Paryavaran Mitra,an outfit that takes up environmental issues,was admitted on March 30. It claimed the company was allotted land at a price of one-and-a-half paise per square metre.

On March 3,2010,the Kutch collector passed an order leasing 24,021.78 hectares inside the Great Rann of Kutch to Archean Chemicals Private Limited for 10 years on payment of Rs 36,03,267 as the annual lease amount.

A bench of acting Chief Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya and Justice J B Pardiwala has now given the respondents two weeks to file their replies,and fixed April 13 as the next date of hearing.

Paryavaran Mitra had filed its original petition late last year,requesting for a restraining order on the company while the case was being heard.

The draft amendment quotes the state government’s affidavit-in-reply as saying that the company “required concentrated sea water brine,which is is available in Greater Rann of Kutch in abundance”.

“Other industrial units,manufacturing marine chemicals,are also situated in the Greater Rann of Kutch,” the amendment quoted the state government’s affidavit as saying.

This,the petitioner said,made it “clear that there has been no other procedure resorted to by the state government and or by the Kutch collector by giving equal opportunity to all eligible/interested persons to bid for the land prior to allotting it.”

“This is opposed to and is in breach of the principles enunciated by the Supreme Court,” the petitioner added.

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