Four years ago, a proposed industrial zone was scrapped in Nandigram after the land acquisition stand-off there saw 14 residents shot dead by the police while they were protesting their state governments plan to set up the zone. This year, we have seen a similar stand-off turn bloody at Bhatta-Parsaul in Greater Noida. Other projects in the area are also under the magnifying glass. In May alone, the Allahabad High Court has overturned land acquisition efforts in three casesin the Saberi, Surajpur and Gulistanpur villages. The Greater Noida Development Authority and affected real estate developers have approached the Supreme Court to appeal against the high court. While a detailed hearing will be held on July 5, the apex court made a notable observation on Monday: We do not want more Nandigrams in all states. Further, the court pinpointed the bad penny thats turning up across all the controversial cases: the urgency clause under Section 17(1) of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894. This allows authorities to dispense with landowners rights to be heard in the much-abused name of public purpose. In the Saberi case, the Allahabad High Court found this simply meant that agricultural land was acquired cheaply in the name of industry, and then relabelled as residential for the purpose of being developed into multi-storey housing complexes by builderssurely a colourable exercise of power.
Mayawati has responded to judicial reverses with a more evolved policy, where land acquisition for commercial purposes will see buyers and sellers engage each other directly. In sharp contrast, the NAC has recommended that all land be bought only by government for projects where more than 400 families are affected, though subject to the majority being in favour of the sale. There is lots of churn taking place on this subject. But the apex court is correct in saying (a) we dont want more Nandigrams and (b) one way of avoiding Nandigrams would be to stop abusing the urgency clause.