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SC land notice to Centre

New Delhi, July 16: The Supreme Court today asked the Centre to respond to a petition that has challenged the government's decision to re-promulgate the land acquisition ordinance, slamming what it called was a "defiant" act that went against the court's earlier judgments.

A bench headed by Justice J.S. Khehar gave the government four weeks to reply after former additional solicitor general Indira Jaising said the court was already seized of the validity of the earlier ordinance.

On May 30, the Union cabinet had decided to re-promulgate the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) ordinance, days before the earlier ordinance lapsed in the first week of June.

It was the third such decision since the Narendra Modi government assumed power in May 2014.

The ordinancehad been promulgated for the first time in December to amend the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. Although the bill to replace the ordinancewas passed in the Lok Sabha, the government could not push it through in the Rajya Sabha for want of numbers. The ordinance was re-promulgated in March.

Among other things, the re-promulgated ordinance has exempted the need for social impact assessment, originally envisaged in the 2013 bill, when land is being acquired for five specific purposes. They are: national security projects; rural infrastructure, including electrification; affordable housing and housing for the poor; industrial corridors, and infrastructure and social infrastructure projects, including those under public-private-partnership where ownership of land continues to vest with the government.

The petition, filed by four Delhi-based organisations - the Delhi Grameen Samaj, Bharatiya Kishan Union, Gram Sewa Samiti and the Chogama Vikas Avam -pointed out that the latest ordinance was issued although the court had on April 13 sought the government's response on the earlier ordinance.

It said the bill had already been referred to a joint parliamentary committee on May 13.

The petitioners said the re-promulgation of the ordinance was a "defiant" act. "It is submitted that the cornerstone of our democratic scheme is law-making by Parliament and the device of promulgating successive ordinances by circumventing Parliament and without enacting the provisions of the ordinance into law subverts the central scheme of the Constitution as well as the basic structure of the Constitution," the petition said.

"It is submitted that the promulgation of the impugned ordinance is a defiant act by the central executive when the issue as to the validity of the (earlier) ordinance... relating to the same subject matter is already pending consideration before this Hon'ble Court in writ petition No. 184/2015 filed by the petitioners herein."

The petitioners also said the decision was in contravention of the apex court's earlier judgments that ordinances can be promulgated only in extraordinary situations.

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