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Supreme Court voices concern over development at the cost of landowners' livelihood

J. Venkatesan

‘It is giving rise to insurgency and political extremism'

‘Development is a dreadful word for millions as it denies them even the source of their sustenance'

‘Development promises made at the time of land acquisition mostly remain illusory'

New Delhi: The Supreme Court has expressed concern that the path of development by depriving landowners of their land seemed to give rise to insurgency and political extremism which, along with terrorism, are supposed to be the three gravest threats to the country's integrity and sovereignty.

A Bench of Justices Aftab Alam and B.S. Chauhan, in a judgment said: “the whole issue of development appears to be so simple, logical and commonsensical. And yet, to millions of Indians, development is a dreadful and hateful word that is aimed at denying them even the source of their sustenance.”

The Bench said “the resistance with which the state's well meaning efforts at development and economic growth are met makes one to think about the reasons for such opposition to the state's endeavours for development. Why is the state's perception and vision of development at such great odds with the people it purports to develop? And why are their rights so dispensable? Why do India's GDP and HDI [Human Development Index, which is broadly used as measure of life expectancy, adult literacy and standard of living] present such vastly different pictures? With the GDP of $ 1.16 Trillion [for 2008] Indian economy is twelfth largest in U.S. Dollar terms and it is the second fastest growing economy in the world. But according to the Human Develop- ment Report 2009 [published by UNDP], the HDI for India is 0.612 [for 2007] which puts it at the 134th place among 182 countries. India has maintained the same HDI and rank since the previous year, and it continues to be categorised under ‘Medium Human Development'.”

Writing the judgment, Justice Alam said the fears expressed by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in the Constituent Assembly had been confirmed. “A blinkered vision of development, complete apathy towards those who are highly adversely affected by the development process and a cynical unconcern for the enforcement of the laws lead to a situation where the rights and benefits promised and guaranteed under the Constitution hardly ever reach the most marginalised citizens.”

The Bench said: “This is not to say that the relevant laws are perfect and very sympathetic towards the dispossessed. There are various studies that detail the impact of dispossession from their lands on tribal people. On many occasions laws are implemented only partially. The scheme of land acquisition often comes with assurances of schools, hospitals, roads, and employment. The initial promises, however, mostly remain illusory. The aims of income restoration and house resettlement prove to be very difficult. Non-compliance with even the basic regulations causes serious health problems for the local population and contamination of soil and water.”

The court expressed concern that violent group of political extremists had been able to gain sufficient strength to pose a threat to constitutional governance of the state. “This group openly defies the democratic system of the country and is committed to overthrow the Constitution by brutal and murderous means. According to news paper reports, in the district of Sundergarh, where the acquired lands are situated, the extremist group looted 550 kg of explosives in April 2003 and in August 2009 blew up a railway station. The other fact is that this is not an isolated case. We have come across many such cases of land acquisition.”

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