Supreme Court to decide if state govt can belatedly act on land claims

The Supreme Court has agreed to examine whether a state government can belatedly initiate proceedings to claim land that was notified for acquisition over six decades ago.

The decision comes after 27 farmers from Guria village in West Bengal’s Purba Medinipur district approached the top court against the state’s move to take over their agricultural land that it claims to have acquired 67 years ago.

The farmers want the SC to set aside a Calcutta high court order refusing to intervene in the government action that asks farmers to vacate 35 acres required for a brick field. A bench of justices AM Sapre and Indu Malhotra has asked the state to respond to the petition by January second week.

Filed through advocates Rohan D Bhowmick and Uday Gupta, the petition says the farmers and their families have been cultivating land for generations. In 2015, they were shocked when the local authorities summoned them to say that the land did not belong to them but to the state public works department (PWD).

The state authorities provided details about acquisition proceedings under the West Bengal Land (Requisition and Acquisition) Act, 1948, to the petitioners and told them the same thing had happened when they were children. The land was turned over to the government and, years later, vested with the PWD.

However, the authorities failed to produce any document in support of the completion of acquisition proceedings, including the passing of the award and payment of compensation. A desperate search by the farmers for “scraps” of information about the acquisition revealed nothing, the court was told. They were forced to approach the court when the authorities threatened to evict them from the land.

In September this year, the HC did not favour the farmers. It concluded that the farmers had woken up too late. The acquisition was duly notified, published in a gazette and culminated in an award.

But, the farmers asserted, the state neither took physical possession of the land nor paid them any compensation. “Though acquisition proceedings were initiated 67 years back for the purpose of a brick field, but no possession was taken by the land acquisition collector and no award was passed and no compensation was paid, hence said proceeding has been lapsed by operation of law,” the petition contended.

“Petitioner’s father and forefathers were owners of the land. After the expiry of their father and forefathers, they have become owners of the respective plots of land by way of inheritance, and they are in possession and cultivating the land since, long without any interruption from any corner,” it said.

The petition comes close on the heels of another plea filed by activist Medha Patekar challenging the legality of the amendments made to the land acquisition law by five states. Patkar contended that the changes allow forcible acquisition of land for both private and public infrastructure projects. The top court has agreed to look into the matter.

First Published: Dec 22, 2018 23:02 IST

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