Monday, May 14, 2012

State govt gives land worth crores to private company, sans authority: HC

Anand Bodh, TNN May 11, 2012, 07.27AM IST

SHIMLA: Around 325 bighas of land worth crores was handed over by the Himachal Pradesh government to Jai Prakash Associates Limited (JAL) without any authority, which has left the high court shocked.

In its recent judgment, the division bench of the court has observed, "Can the state act like a land mafia, take over the possession of the village common land and hand it over to a private company without even following the semblance of the rule of law? Can a private company take possession of public property and erect a factory thereupon without any legal authority? Obviously the answer has to an emphatic No."

In its May 4 judgment, the division bench of Justice Deepak Gupta and Justice Sanjay Karol has pointed out that the speed at which the action was taken and the manner in which JAL was put into possession of the plant clearly reflects that everything is not above board.

The verdict said that as per the documents, which are on record, single window clearance for the plant was conveyed to JAL on September 16, 2004, which thereafter approached the state level site appraisal committee for approval of the site at village Pandiyana (Tikkri) near Bagheri and the proposed site was finally recommended and approved by the committee on May 27, 2005.

The court observed that the version of state is that the land selected was forest land and therefore permission for diversion of the forest land was sought under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 for being diverted for use of non-forest purpose for setting up a cement plant. This permission was granted on September 8, 2005. Thereafter, on October 18, 2005 the industry department took up the matter with the revenue department for leasing out the land to JAL.

"Admittedly, the revenue department transferred the land to industry department only on November 29, 2008 and the industry department took notional possession of the land on March 4, 2009. The company had been put in possession of the land in October, 2005 without any legal document or order. We vide our order dated September 30, 2011, had directed the chief secretary to the Himachal Pradesh government to explain how the possession of land was handed over to JAL," the court said.

On the reply filed by the chief secretary, the court observed that shockingly in a matter which was being dealt with at the highest levels of the executive, nobody looked into this aspect of the matter as to how JAL had been put in possession of this land, merely because the ministry of environment and forest (MoEF) had granted permission to divert the forest land for non-forest purpose.

The court further pointed out that in fact the land, even as per the government, was village common land and possession was not of the revenue or industry departments. "If the possession of the land was not with the departments how was the possession of public land handed over to the company," it said.

While referring to the issue of transferring land from the common pool to allotment pool, the court observed that again only the interest of JAL was watched and the interests of the common people were totally forgotten. "It appears that the officials were more concerned about the interest of the project proponent and nobody bothered about the interest of the villagers or the purpose of the village common lands act," the court added.

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