SC notice on return of unutilised farmers land acquired for SEZs
New Delhi, Jan 9 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Monday issued notice to the central and six state governments on a PIL seeking return of unutilised land of farmers that were acquired for SEZs and a CBI probe into the alleged diversion of loans raised by the SEZ developers.
The bench of Chief Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar, Justice D.Y.Chandrachud and Justice L. Nageswara Rao issued notice as they were told that 80 per cent of the land that was acquired for developing SEZs remained unutilised but loans raised against them by their developers were diverted for their other businesses.
The notice have also been issued to Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, West Bengal and Punjab on a PIL by a farmers organisation called SEZ Farmers Protection Welfare Association.
The organisation has told the court that in last five years upto November 2015, for 56 SEZs spread over 15 states, 4,842.38 hectares was acquired, but only 362.25 hectares utilised and the remaining 4,480.13 hectares remained unutilised.
The organisation has referred to the CAG report for the year 2012-13 on the “Performance of ‘Special Economic Zones” which says that out of 45,635.63 hectares notified in the country for SEZs, operation commenced in only 28,488.49 hectares.
Senior counsel Colin Gonsalves appearing for the petitioner farmers cited the CAG report which said that “we noted a trend wherein developers approached the government for allotment/purchase of area of land in the name of SEZ. However, only a fraction of land so acquired was notified for SEZs and later de-notification was also resorted to within a few years to benefit from price appreciation in terms of area of land”.
He also noted that the CAG report said that out of 39,245 hectares notified in the six states (Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Odisha), 5402.22 hectares (14 per cent) of land was de-notified and diverted for commercial purposes in several cases.
“Many tracts of these lands were acquired invoking the ‘public purpose clause’ thus land acquired was not serving the objectives of SEZ Act,” Gonsalves said referring to the CAG report.
Besides seeking the return of farmers land and the Central Bureau of Probe into its mis-utilisation, the petitioner has sought declaration that the action of the state government in acquiring lands in the names of SEZ was “unconstitutional being violative of Article 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution for causing joblessness to the farmers and agricultural labour”.
The PIL urged the court to direct the conduct of comprehensive social impact study on farmers whose lands were acquired and they rendered jobless.
It has also sought direction to the Centre to initiate criminal and civil action against the SEZ developers for not discharging their obligation under the contract and thereby causing unemployment, wastage of natural resources, causing loss to food security and other consequences.