Fight for rights continues

Published on May 15, 2015 03:14:14 AM
News
A final petition was filed in the Supreme Court on Wednesday seeking adequate compensation to the land losers and transparency in land acquisition for the Polavaram project.

Supreme Court advocate K Sravan Kumar said that the petition was filed urging the court to direct the government to implement the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, in the context of land acquisition taking place in East Godavari and West Godavari districts in Andhra Pradesh.

The Indira Sagar (Polavaram) Multipurpose Irrigation Project, also known as Polavaram irrigation project, would affect 299 villages in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Chhattisgarh and displace more than three lakh people.

The petition stated that Polavaram project was proposed during the British rule in early 1900s and a detailed report was prepared in 1941 taking into account the situations that prevailed at that time. Later, habitations, population, submergence and cost of project increased manifold. Besides, several new laws were enacted to protect environment and public welfare. Records show that the foundation for the Polavaram project was laid thrice after independence.

Several objections were raised from the people who would be affected and environmentalists. Also, there were allegations of corruption in granting project contracts. Odisha, Chhattisgarh, tribal groups, former IAS officer B D Sharma, Prof Kodandaram Reddy and others had filed petitions in the Supreme Court objecting to the design of the project, which would submerge 299 villages, 1.5 lakh acres, wildlife sanctuary and thousands of acres of forest land. These petitions were yet to be disposed of by the court.

It said that the Andhra Pradesh government was acquiring large chunks of land from 2007 for the Polavaram project. Though the awards for the acquisition were passed in 2007 and 2008 under the then Land Acquisition Act, 1894, so far the government did not take physical possession of lands. Consequently, many affected families were residing in the acquired areas and cultivating the land. In most cases, compensation/award for project-affected people was also not fully distributed. The Rehabilitation and Resettlement (R&R) package promised by the State government was not implemented so far.

The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, came into force on January 1, 2014, replacing the Land Acquisition Act, 1894. According to Section 24 of the new Act, if award with respect to a land was passed under the old Act five years or more prior to the commencement of the new Act but possession of the land has not been taken by the State government, then the proceedings under the old Act shall be deemed to have been lapsed.

Under such circumstances, if the State government chooses to proceed for land acquisition, it will have to be initiated afresh in accordance with the new Act. Hence the petitioners said that the proceedings under the old Act had lapsed and the State government would have initiate proceedings again to acquire land. The petitioner said implementation of the new Act was critical for enforcement of substantive rights vested in the people under the new Act, which did not find mention under the previous Act.

The petitioner said that during the State reorganisation, the Union government declared Polavaram a national project and promised to fund land acquisition, construction, execution and implementation of R&R package for the project.

The State government wanted to complete the project in a period of four years and hence it was forcing the affected people to vacate the villages without providing proper compensation, he alleged.

The affected families were mostly poor tribals and marginalised people who were ignorant of their rights under new Act. The petitioner urged the court to ensure protection of their rights under Articles 14,15,19(i)(g) and 21,21A of the Constitution.

Chronology
1941 Polavaram project conceptualised by Madras Presidency. Estimated cost was Rs 6.5 crore

1946-47 Project rechristened as Rampada Sagar Project

1980 Foundation stone laid by Chief Minister T Anjaiah; Godavari Water Authority, led by Justice Bachawath, made allocations

2005 AP Rehabilitation & Resettlement Policy, 2005, framed; Second foundation stone laid by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi; Conditional permission granted by Environment Ministry

2007 Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs grants conditional clearance to R&R plan

2007-08 Award for lands acquired under Section 11 of Land Acquisition Act, 1894 published

2009 Union Environment Ministry notice to AP government to conduct public hearings in project-affected areas in Telangana region, Chhattisgarh and Odisha

2010 Union Environment Ministry issues notice to State government to put the project on hold for continuing it without obtaining environment clearance

2011 Tribal Affairs Minister Kishore Chandra Deo raises objections on Polavaram design

2013 Foundation stone laid for third time, this time by Farmers’ Union leader M V Satyanarayana

2014 The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, comes into force; Centre declares Polavaram a national project

- NHRC seeks report on allegations of forceful eviction of inhabitants; Centre constitutes Polavaram Project Authority; AP Reorganisation Act-2014 amended to merge seven mandals into AP.

- Ministry of Rural Development notifies guidelines for Social Impact Assessment

2015 Joint Secretary of Ministry of Rural Development writes to Joint Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources on non-implementation of new Land Acquisition Act

- Centre allocates Rs 250 crore for setting up of special purpose vehicle and Polavaram Project Authority

- Union govt allocates Rs 100 crore for Polavaram Project Authority in 2015-16 Budget

- Union Minister Uma Bharathi says only 1,730 people in six villages among 1,88,370 of 222 villages rehabilitated; Writ petition filed in Supreme Court