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Putting a stop to land grabs

In a landmark judgement, a Chattisgarh Special Court has ordered the powerful Jindal Steel Power Limited (JSPL) to return the lands they had forcibly acquired from poor farmers to build a residential colony for the company’s employees in Raigarh district. This is a remarkable and welcome development in a country when land acquisition is a sensitive topic, with a bill still waiting to see the light of the day, with parties reaching no consensus on the issue in Parliament. However, the Special court in Gharghoda, Chattisgarh has upheld after hearing a petition that was pending since 2009. In a spirit becoming of a democratic republic that boasts of an independent judiciary, the court order has re-instilled faith in the sagging morale of our institutions. The court has heard the grievances of the petitioner Haripriya Patel, who had filed a public interest litigation against JDPL’s Jindal Open Cast Coal Mines alleging that they had encroached upon their land in Dongamahua in Raigarh, usurping the locals there in order to erect a residential colony on more than a hectare of land. In fact, the court further observed than the colony was built without taking permission from the actual owners of the land, and the company had bordered on unlawful means to both acquire the territory, as well had persisted in their refusal to both acknowledge the land grab, or even to pay remuneration to the displaced locals, who had been struggling against the ghastly act for the past decade and knocking on the doors of the administration, which in fact, appears to be hand in glove with the steel magnet in its machinations to severely inconvenience the already disenfranchised.
 
Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill (which seeks to repeal and replace the antiquated Land Acquisition Act of 1894 implemented by the British) remains a contested matter for the political classes, many of whom are themselves embedded in the matrix of extortion, forcible land grab and displacement of millions of tribals and farmers from their lands owned by them for generations. While it is true that sometimes arable land is needed to build public infrastructure like roads, railways and canals, and even industries, increasingly private corporations have been indiscriminately exploiting and displacing people from their ancient holdings, causing unimaginable and irreparable loss to their livelihoods, pushing them below sustenance levels. If the agitations in Nadigram and Singur are anything to by, then the public is gradually beginning to assert their rights on their territories, and demanding adequate compensation if moving elsewhere is the only choice left. However, when private companies like Jindal industries take to measures as deplorable as displacing people from their multi-generationally owned lands, the public can only fall back on the revered institutions of this country in order to seek redress and justice. The Chattisgarh court order is the first step towards a larger overhaul of the system.
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