Chhattisgarh High Court Strips 4 Power Companies of Land

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After the indictment of Centre and state governments by Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in Coalgate, the Chhattisgarh High Court on Tuesday cancelled land allocation for four coal-based power plants in Raigarh and Janjgir districts.

NEW DELHI: It has reported that the Chhattisgarh high court has quashed a land acquisition order by the state government for four power projects, including one of SKS Ispat and Power Ltd, the firm under a cloud for its links with Union minister Subodh Kant Sahai.

Justice Prashant Mishra held on Tuesday that the state had misused its powers of eminent domain to acquire land since the coal-based power projects did not constitute ‘public purpose’. The court called the acquisition a “colourable exercise of power” and asked the state to pay Rs 5,000 each as damages to each petitioner. “The order is significant in the context of the current furore over private firms getting access to coal blocks for free.

Court has quashed a land acquisition order by the state government for four power projects, including

1. SKS Ispat and Power Ltd

2. KSK Energy

3. Moser Baer &

4. Visa Power

It shows that the same companies also got access to land for cheap, facilitated by the state,” said Sanjay Kumar, who appeared on behalf of 62 farmers from Siladih and Birra where the government has acquired 790 acres of land for Moser Baer’s 1320MW power project and also two petitioners from Akaltara where KSK Energy is setting up a 3600 MW project.

Eight separate pleas had been filed by 100-odd villagers who stood to lose their land in Raigarh and Janjgir Champa districts to four firms — SKS Power, KSK Energy, Moser Baer and Visa Power.

The acquisition was done under Section 2 of the Land Acquisition Act which empowers the government to forcibly acquire land on a fast-track basis for ‘public purpose’.

But the court held that land for private companies can only be acquired under Section 7, which mandates that companies seek government intervention only after private negotiations with farmers have failed. “The companies did not negotiate with farmers.

They simply signed agreements with the government informing them of the location where they wanted land,” said Hamida Siddiqui, who represented petitioners from Deori and Dumarpali who lost land to Visa Power.

RTI activist Hamida Siddiqui said, “This is a welcome decision by the court. It is in favour of the poor and the farmers. That land is prime agricultural land. It has tube wells installed and their livelihood depends on it. Even if the farmers get money, how will they sustain themselves?”

“The state government, in turn, issued a notification stating it was acquiring land for ‘industrial use’,” said Harsh Wardhan, the lawyer who represented 29 villagers from Binjkot village in Raigarh, where 357 acres of land was transferred to SKS Power.

The land was officially acquired in the name of Chhattisgarh State Industrial Corporation (CSIDC) which leased it out to the companies. “The project’s life is 25 years but the lease was signed for 99 years, effectively transferring the land to the company,” said Sanjay Kumar.

Moser Baer said it had paid advance premium to CSIDC for the land but till date no land has been leased out.

“The state government had initiated process of acquisition as per the previaling industrial policy of the state,” it said. N Baijendra Kumar, spokesman for Chhattisgarh government, said the government was examining the order and exploring legal options. SKS Ltd declined comment and the other two firms could not be reached.

(Times of India, 6 September 2012)

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