A Farmer Cannot Be Deprived of his land without a lawful compensation and means to Rehabilitation or Resettlement: Telangana High Court

In case of Merugu Narsaiah @ Narsimha Reddy and Ors. v. The state of Telangana decided on June 03, 2020, through the learned bench led by Justices M. S. Ramachandra Rao and K. Lakshman, ordered the state to compensate the petitioners who are farmers, stating that “for an Indian farmer like the petitioners, deprivation of agricultural land is traumatic, more so, when compensation as per the Law of the land is not paid at the earliest and proper Resettlement and Rehabilitation, as per law, is not done.”

Facts of the case: The farmers, in this case, had a small area of land through which they earned their livelihood. Kaleswaram Irrigation Project was launched by the state government to construct a reservoir for which the land of the farmers was required by the state, so as part of the scheme the lands of the petitioners were acquired by the government to go on with the project.

According to the petitioners they were forcefully evicted from their land overnight and the release of the river into the receiver lead to the submersion of their lands. It was claimed that the respondent used force and other methods like coercion in contenting them to sign the agreement without free consent under arbitrary prices.

The petitioners also claimed that they were not provided with any other alternative like a new settlement area or land to earn their livelihood, as provided under Section 31 and Schedules II and III of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (Act of 2013). It also violated Articles 14 and 300A of the Constitution of India, Section 23 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872, and the Act of 2013.

Whereas the State had argued that the consideration for the sale of land was agreed by the individual landowners and the Procuring Agency before the Committee and the rate was more beneficial than the land compensation allowed under the Act of 2013.

Judgment: – In the court findings, it was discovered that the respondents could not produce any proper evidence in front of the court, be it the agreement signed by the petitioners to show how the consideration per acre was arrived at, or an agreement showing the consent of petitioners. The respondent was also not able to present minutes of the meetings of the District Level Land Procurement Committee to show how it had arrived at the consideration to be offered to the petitioners for purchasing their land and many such loopholes were found in the story presented by the defendant. The court has the power to strike down an unfair and unreasonable contract, or an unfair and unreasonable clause in a contract entered into between parties who are not equal in bargaining power. The court found that there was no evidence in support of responses, like how consideration was determined or the transparency also respondent violated the public trust doctrine. The respondent not only violated Article14 and 300A of the constitution but also, Sec 19 and Sec 23 of the Contract Act, 1872, making such an agreement invalid. The Court directed the respondents to re-determine the compensation payable to the petitioners strictly in accordance with Act 30 and asked the respondent to pay a fine of 2 thousand to each petitioner.

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