Expressing anguish over how government authorities diverted the acquired land to favour private builders, the Supreme Court has cancelled the acquisition of huge tracts of land by the Chandigarh Administration for the expansion of the Rajiv Gandhi Technology Park, saying the process of acquisition was illegal. It said that though the ostensible object of transferring land to the Chandigarh Housing Board was the development of residential and other infrastructure facilities in the IT Park, the real purpose was to benefit private developers and this became evident from the decision taken in the meeting of the officers of the Chandigarh Administration held on March 30, 2006. The housing board, which had invited bids for disposal of the land, had allotted 123.79 acres to Parsvnath Developers Ltd. However, after issuing a glamorous advertisement with the title ParsvnathPride Asia, Chandigarh (an address for aristocratic living) to attract prospective buyers of residential and commercial properties, Parsvnath appears to have abandoned the project and raised certain disputes that are pending before the arbitrator, the top court said. The court pointed out that the land acquisition officer has failed to consider objections of the land owners but sympathised with him by saying that if he had shown the courage of acting independently and made recommendation against acquisition of land, he would surely have been shifted from that post and his career would have been jeopardised.
Cracking down on bonded labour
Disposing of a PIL, which seeks directions for effective implementation of law to abolish bonded labour and strict action against those who keep them in hostage, the Supreme Court has directed all the states and Union territories to conduct a survey on bonded labour and take steps to rehabilitate them. Asking all the states to submit their bi-annual reports to the National Human Rights Commission, which would monitor the implementation of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, it said that these states had drawn together R4.94 crore from the Centre to conduct a survey of bonded labourers between 2001 and 2010, but not a single state had accomplished the task. It said fresh surveys are to be conducted once in three years in all the states/UTs in accordance with the provisions of the Act and the findings of the revised survey should be made a part of a computerised database available on the websites of all concerned. While expressing concern over the exploitation of bonded labour, the apex court found that bonded labour was rampant in brick kilns, stone quarries, crushing mines, beedi manufacturing, carpet weaving, construction industries, agriculture, in rural and urban unorganised and informal sectors, power looms and cotton handlooms, fish processing, etc.
Tax relief for agri-markets
Dismissing a large batch of appeals moved by the income tax department in the case of Commissioner of Income Tax vs M/s Krishi Utpadan Mandi Samiti, the Supreme Court has held that contributions made by the members of the Uttar Pradesh agricultural produce marketing committees to the Mandi Parishad towards the market committee fund are non-taxable as they are for charitable purposes under the Income Tax Act, 1961. The market committees, which advance credit facilities to farmers as well as for development work in the area, source their income from market fee, development cess levied on sale and purchase of agricultural products, and licence fees from traders. The payments from these market committees are being credited to the state marketing development fund, which is for rendering assistance to financially weak and under-developed market committees and for development and other related work in a market area. The apex court said that these committees have a statutory obligation to defray the expenses out of the fund for the welfare of members, thus these activities come within the definition of charitable purposes under the Income Tax Act. It rejected the arguments of the department, represented by senior counsel Rajiv Dutta, that the contributions made by the assessees to Mandi Parishad cannot constitute application of income for charitable purposes as the former was only a conduit, which collected payments, whereas the utilisation of such a fee was by another entity, i.e. Mandi Parishad, whose accounts are not verifiable and, therefore, such an income will not get the benefit of exemption under Section 11(1)(a) of 1961 Act.