The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Land leash on Bengal

Calcutta, May 18: Calcutta High Court today ruled that the Bengal government could no longer acquire land that is in excess of the ceiling unless it works out “an adequate and proper compensation package”.

The ruling will apply to all future acquisitions related to the Land Reforms Act but not those under the Land Acquisition Act that the government has been using to facilitate industry.

The order means that the government’s acquisitions to build a land bank will come to a halt. It will also affect the land and land reforms department whose primary function is to collect excess land and redistribute it among the landless.

For land acquired under the Land Reforms Act — the parent act that brings into play land ceiling rules — the government pays far below the market value.

The court has described the government rate as “illusory”.

However, since 1993, when some land losers took the matter to court citing “inadequate compensation”, the government has carried on acquiring land in excess of the ceiling without paying any compensation. The government cited “a pending legal dispute in court” to justify the non-payment.

Today, the court put a stop to this.

A division bench of Justices B. Bhattacharya and K.K. Prasad said that if the government wanted to vest any land, it would have to first make provision for payment of adequate compensation by amending the Land Reforms Act.

“The state government has no authority to vest land in the absence of any provision for compensation to the owners of the land,” the order said.

Land and land reforms minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah said his department would move the Supreme Court against the order. “We’re moving court on Tuesday,” Mollah said.

The dispute began when the state government amended the Land Reforms Act in 1986, saying compensation would be paid at market rates prevailing in 1969. The matter was challenged by land owners in the high court, which struck down the amendment in 1993.

The state government immediately filed a special leave petition in the Supreme Court, which is still pending. The landowners responded by filing a special leave petition that, too, is pending.

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