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Lease breather for Tatas

Ranchi/Jamshedpur, Sept. 29: Jharkhand High Court today ordered the state not to take any coercive action if Tata Steel pays Rs 5.41 crore in lieu of the money due for renewal of its lease.

The court has directed the steel major to pay the money within two weeks from the date of the order.

Tata Steel filed a writ petition in the high court on September 25 after East Singhbhum deputy commissioner Sunil Kumar Burnwal slapped a notice on the company demanding immediate payment of Rs 110.75 crore for the renewal of about 4,000 acres of land listed under Schedule IV areas.

The administration also warned that if the steel major failed to make the payment, it would be forced to lodge a certificate case ' usually filed against defaulters ' against the company.

The district administration demanded the amount for salami, rent on salami, interest and penalty towards Schedule IV of the land lease. The district authorities alleged that Tata Steel had violated several clauses of Schedule IV under which the company was given permission to sub-lease land.

According to the records, the government had leased land under Schedule IV to the company, the agreement for which had expired in 1995. Even after the expiry of the lease, the company continued to collect charges and taxes accruing on the land under the lease.

The petition was admitted in the court today and the judge restrained the East Singhbhum district administration from initiating any steps whatsoever to realise the amount that it had demanded as payment towards Schedule IV.

'The court has directed the company to deposit Rs 5.41 crore as interim payment and the company will follow the instructions and deposit the money in the treasury,' company sources said.

The court has fixed the next date of hearing on October 29.

With the renewal of the lease still under the scanner and awaiting final order of the court, Tata Steel is unable to go ahead with its expansion plans in the disputed land. Tata Steel sources said the company cannot be blamed because the government had always assured it that the lease would be renewed.

'The company had continuously provided the same services and it cannot be faulted for recovering charges. Moreover, the sum of Rs 110 crore is too big an amount to be charged for something the company is not directly responsible for,' said a source.

Chief minister Arjun Munda has taken a stern note on the company's stand of operating on Schedule IV land without any formal agreement with the government. The company should pay whatever is due to the state for operating for about nine years after the lease has expired, Munda had earlier said.

Munda has also backed the deputy commissioner's decision to issue the notice to Tata Steel by saying that it was the duty of the district administration to ensure the compliance of rules and laws of the state. However, the chief minister had been quick to add that the administration should at the same time not take any steps that would hamper industrial growth in the state.

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