Ranchi, Aug. 1: A committee formed to resolve a land acquisition controversy that has stalled construction of three national academic institutions on the outskirts of the capital has noted that aggrieved villagers are vehemently opposed to parting with their ancestral property and have rejected state government’s overtures for a negotiated settlement.
The five-member committee headed by land reforms and revenue minister Mathura Mahto handed over its report to chief minister Arjun Munda today without any specific recommendations. But, it noted that acquisition of 25 acres among the 227 acres, where campuses of IIM-Ranchi, NUSRL and IIIT were to come up in addition to a proposed ring road, was faulty.
Mahto said he had mentioned in his report that the villagers were not ready to part with their land. “Now, it is for the state government as well as Jharkhand High Court to take a call,” he added. The minister said the committee had not suggested a way out as it wasn’t its brief to do so. “Our brief was to open a dialogue with the villagers, asking them to negotiate. But, we had no option when they iterated during two meetings that they were not ready to part with their land,” he said.
On July 11, Munda had entrusted Mahto to head the committee, primarily because he and his party chief, JMM supremo Shibu Soren, had openly supported the villagers who had demolished campus boundary walls that were being constructed even though the high court had indicated it wanted the state machinery to ensure that rule of law was allowed to prevail.
The state government, which was to submit a status report to the high court on July 31, did not wish to comment on today’s development. Advocate-general Anil Sinha said the government would file its report before August 6 when the case came up for hearing.
According to a member of the committee, the administration had sent several feelers to the villagers to discuss compensation at rates higher than market rates in addition to class III and IV jobs for those losing their land. “But they stuck to their stand,” he said.
The member, who did not want to be identified, also pointed out that the committee was bound by six conditions set by the high court in its July 16 judgment. “That prohibited us from going out of the way to suggest a way out to resolve the issue,” he added.
The high court had said that land acquired could not be returned as it had been taken over by the government for the state’s development. It pointed to Section 48 of the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 which ruled the government could withdraw acquisition only if it had not taken possession.
“In this case, not only has possession been taken by the government, but possession has been handed over to the three prestigious institutions (IIM, NUSRL and IIIT) coming up in the state,” the court observed.
Social activist Dayamani Barla, one of the leaders spearheading the villagers’ agitation, said the government’s committee had failed in its job. “The committee should have resolved to return the land to the villagers,” she said.