Before the Reliance Industries petition challenging the validity of a key clause in the 2013 land Act, there have been at least two cases in which Gujarat High Court has declared land acquisition lapsed because possession had not taken or compensation not been paid within a time-frame of five years prior to enactment of the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013.
The Act came into effect in January 2014. In both cases, the court invoked section 24(2), which sets the time-frame of five years for land that had been acquired under the previous Land Acquisition Act of 1894.
In July 2014, the court held that the acquisition of 16,064 square metres in Jahangirpura, Surat, by the state-owned Gujarat Electricity Transmission Corporation Ltd had lapsed on the ground that GETCO did not take physical possession of the land within the five-year time-frame.
A single judge bench of Justice R D Kothari passed the judgment, pointing out that the government had acquired the land in 1987 under the provisions of the 1894 Land Acquisition Act but did not take possession, hence it had lapsed as per the provisions of the new Act.
In October 2015, a division bench comprising Justices Akil Kureshi and Mohinder Pal, ruling on a set of petitions moved by 13 farmers of Otala village of Morbi district, decided in favour of the farmers.
The land here was for Bangwadi Irrigation Project; farmers’ land was acquired in 2008. The group of farmers who filed the petition, however, had voluntarily forgone their right to compensation. Their land was going to be submerged only for a month in the monsoon when the dam was filled to capacity, they pointed out, saying they could farm there for the rest of the year. When the compensation award for farmers was declared in 2008. the government agreed not to acquire the land of this group of farmers, and possession stayed with them.
Later, however, the government decided to acquire the land on the ground that the level in the reservoir was receding because of a leakage, and the spillover would submerge the land of the 13 farmers which would, therefore, need to be acquired.
It was here that the court decided the matter in the farmers’ favour, holding the “land acquisition” had lapsed since neither was compensation paid nor possession taken five years prior to implementation of the new Act.
A farmers’ leader in Gujarat said section 24(2) is a great relief to the community in their resistance to industries since a number of land acquisition drives by the state government are for projects whose planning period runs as long as 50 years.
“In such a situation, the farmers would lose their land for all those years even if the industries do nothing on the land for a long period,” the leader said.
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