Justice Markandey Katju: Acquiring farmers’ land in India

Justice Markandey Katju

By Justice Markandey Katju-

(Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own)

Land belonging to farmers in India is often acquired for some public purpose, e.g. developing infrastructure.

The latest such acquisition is for constructing the Chittoor–Thatchur Expressway (NH-716B) in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

This greenfield highway will link the 262 km Bangalore–Chennai Expressway near Chittoor (KM 152) with the 133 km Chennai Peripheral Ring Road (CPRR project) at Kannigaipair (in Thiruvallur district) with which 10.45 km will overlap – taking the overall project length to 126.550 km.

The project was approved for construction under the Bharatmala Pariyojana Phase 1 program and its Detailed Project Report (DPR) was prepared by Louis Berger Group Inc.

  • Total Estimated Cost: ₹3,197.56 crore
  • Total length: 116.10 km
  • Land required: 885.5 hectares (525 hectares in Andhra Pradesh, 360.5 hectares in Tamil Nadu)
  • The expressway will pass through Chittoor district in Andhra Pradesh and Thiruvallur district of Tamil Nadu.

Meanwhile, the Jai Kisan Andolan has begun an agitation against this project (NH-716B). They have organised the affected farmers and demanded the following reports in their RTI application from the Special District Revenue Officer on April 23, but have not received any response.

  • 1. Socio Economic Impact Assessment Test Report
  • 2. Environmental Impact Assessment Report
  • 3. Wet Lands report
  • 4. Feasibility Report
  • 5. Detailed Project Report, and
  • 6. Ornithological Report

These reports are mandatory under various laws. For example, the law requiring a Social Impact Assessment, before acquiring the land.

No doubt there cannot be any total prohibition from acquiring land. After all, infrastructure development is crucial for India to progress.

However, farmers require land for their very survival, and they may not know any other vocation. If their land is to be taken away, they must be given adequate compensation (and preferably a job to a family member) before physical possession.

This compensation must not just be the market value of the land, but an additional sum enabling them to learn some other vocation.

Experience, however, has shown that in India, farmers’ land is taken first, and they have to wait for years before getting compensation, and that too is woefully inadequate (and often they have to give bribes to receive what is lawfully theirs).

India claims to be a welfare state. A welfare state must act fairly towards its citizens, following the philosophy of Raj Dharma. But the truth is that, the government usually ignores this, and treats citizens shabbily.

In this connection I am reminded of a king who did justice to a cobbler whose hut was sought to be acquired:

I am going to Chennai today on the invitation of the farmers’ leaders to discuss ways and means to help them. What I have in mind is filing a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) in the Madras High Court to stay the proceedings of the land acquisition until the farmers get adequate compensation, as well as a job for one member of each family.

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