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HC seeks reply on sub-lease notice

Ranchi, Oct. 11: Jharkhand High Court has directed the state government to file counter affidavits to 16 petitions filed against its decision to stop construction work on plots sub-leased by Tata Steel in Jamshedpur, indicating the contentious issue is unlikely to be resolved in a hurry.

The court also refused to grant a stay on the state government’s order banning construction work, saying the government was being given three weeks to reply. “Otherwise also, construction work might not be resumed due to Dussehra festival,” Justice N.N. Tewari said.

Appearing for XLRI, among the institutions and companies that have moved court, Supreme Court senior advocate Dushyant Dave said that the government’s order banning construction work in over 482 acre surplus land in possession of the steel major was arbitrary and against the principles of natural justice.

“Originally the state government had leased out land to Tata Steel on the basis of a lease deed in 2006. Thereafter, the company has let out the land to several commercial organisations, private concerns and educational institutes which have started construction. The original lease deed states that a notice is required to be given by the state to the sub-lessees six months in advance, calling for their explanation before any action is taken by them,” the advocate argued.

Referring to the government’s letter issued on September 18 banning all construction work, Dave said it was against the provisions of the original lease deed as the government did not wait for six months nor issue individual notices to the sub-lease holders.

“After the notification, all construction work has come to a standstill which has affected the livelihood of thousands of labourers. As much as Rs 35 crore has already been invested cumulatively by the sub-lessees in their respective plots,” said Vinodh Kant, the counsel appearing on behalf of Tata Steel.

Justice Tiwari has scheduled the next hearing on November 6.

Defending the state government, additional advocate- general Ajit Kumar said the steel major had sub-leased land to private and corporate bodies without the approval of the state. Till 2005, only 11 sub-lease agreements were inked but suddenly after 2006 as many as 87 sub-lease agreements were signed.

“There is a vast jump in the number of sub-lessees which has been done without informing the government authorities,” Kumar said.

The government notification was issued after chief minister Arjun Munda called for a fresh assessment of land in possession of Tata Steel. His decision was based on a report of the development commissioner Debashish Gupta who claimed that deals executed between 2005 and 2007 with 59 companies in all had fetched the state revenue amounting to only Rs 11.59 crore.

The government notification stopping all construction work said the “physical structure of the land” should not be changed and that all sub-leased plots would have to be photographed and recorded on video to ensure compliance.

Based on the state government’s orders, East Singhbhum district administration served notices to lease holder Tata Steel on September 21, asking it to stop construction work at all 59 sub-leased plots and maintain status quo.