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The Comptroller and Auditor-General of India has found that the Naveen Patnaik government has ‘misused’ the Land Acquisition Act for acquiring land for several big industrial projects, including the proposed mega steel plant by South Korean steel major Posco.
“Emergency Provisions of Section 17 (4) were misused and applied arbitrarily even without indicating detailed justification for the same and without fulfilment of prescribed conditions,” the CAG has stated.
The CAG report was tabled in the Odisha Assembly on Thursday.
According to the CAG, under the Act, the government is empowered to acquire land in case of urgency, invoking provisions prescribed in Section 17 (4), without giving land losers the opportunity to contest the propriety of the acquisition and the opportunity to be heard as per Section 5 A of the Act.
Such acquisitions are to be made for a specific purpose, subject to fulfilment of prescribed conditions and the acquisition process is to be completed within six months, the report says.
There can never be denial of citizens’ rights under the garb of urgency or necessity.
“An examination of 85 land acquisition cases, in which provisions of Section 17 (4) of the Land Acquisition Act were invoked by the government, revealed that 4,967.08 acres of private land valued at Rs. 165 crore (approximately the present market value is Rs. 901.305 crore) was acquired, between July 2002 and March 2011, for establishments by six promoters,” says the CAG report.
The six companies are Posco (India) Limited in Jagatsinghpur, Vedanta Alumina Limited in Kalahandi, Dhamra Port Company Limited in Bhadrak and Aditya Aluminium Limited, Bhusan Power and Steel Limited and Viraj Steel and Energy Limited in Sambalpur district.
“It was noticed that none of the conditions prescribed in executive instructions of September 1985 for invoking the emergency provisions was fulfilled in all these cases. Instead of giving detailed justification for applying such provision, only general remarks like ‘the project is being executed on a priority basis’, ‘requirement of land was emergent in nature’ were indicated in the applications by the requisitioning officers,” it says. Also, the State government invoked emergency provisions for acquiring 437.86 acres for Posco projects.
Acquisition of nearly 5,000 acres of land for six major industrial players including Posco India and Vedanta Aluminium Ltd (VAL) has turned out to be a sticky thorn in the flesh of the Orissa government.
The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) in its latest report (civil) for the year ended March 31, 2011 has rapped the state revenue department for acquiring land for these industries by invoking emergency provisions without fulfilling the conditions prescribed under Land Acquisition Act-1894.
An audit scrutiny of these land acquisition cases reveals that 4,967.08 acres of land valued at Rs 165 crore (approximate present market value Rs 901.30 crore) were acquired between July 2002 and March 2011 for establishment of industries by six promoters- Aditya Aluminium Ltd (Sambalpur)-2021.41 acres, Bhusan Power & Steel Ltd (Sambalpur)-608.67 acres, Viraj Steel & Energy Ltd (Sambalpur)-2.58 acres, VAL (Kalahandi)-826.56 acres, Dhamara Port Company Ltd (Bhadrak)-1070 acres and Posco India Ltd (Jagatsinghpur)-437.86 acres.
The CAG is also sore over the fact that land acquired in case of all these six industrial projects was not put to use for a period ranging from 15 months to six years three months from the date of publication of notification under Section 4 (1) against the stipulated time period of six months.
“Instead of giving detailed justification for applying emergency provision, only general remarks like ‘the project is being executed on priority basis’ and ‘requirement of land was of emergent nature’ were indicated in the applications by the requisitioning officers. During joint physical inspection in March 2011 by audit of the land acquired for Aditya Aluminium Ltd in the presence of the tahsildar of Rengali, it was observed that except for a compound wall over a portion of the land and one office building on 60 decimal of land, non construction had been made on the said land though land leveling was found to be under progress”, the CAG said in its report.
The CAG has also pointed out that application of emergency clause in these cases was misplaced and deprived the land losers of the opportunity to contest the propriety of such acquisition and to be heard under Section 5A of the Land Acquisition Act.
Under the Land Acquisition Act, the government is empowered to acquire land in case of urgency, invoking provisions prescribed at Section 17 (4), without giving the land losers the opportunity to contest the propriety of the acquisition and the opportunity to be heard as per Section 5A of the Act.
However, such acquisitions are to be made for a specific purpose subject to fulfillment of prescribed conditions and the acquisition process is to be completed within six months.
These conditions stipulate that the land has to be acquired for public purpose and funds available for the public purpose to meet the cost of acquisition of land might get lapsed if not spent within the prescribed time-frame of six months. Besides, public purpose must be requiring assistance from Centre or states and from the World Bank of from any international agency.