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  The Rediff Special

'We had lost the case in three courts,
there was no point losing again'

                                                                   Ramesh Menon Part 3                                                                              Part 2

The case generated a lot of interest.

Ramji Sharma, the lawyer for the Madhya Pradesh Seed and Farm Development Corporation, remembers that he became a celebrity of sorts in legal circles.

Sharma had argued in court that both General Girdhari Singh and Major General Yadunath Singh were "non-residents" and had not taken possession of the land in person. And they never cultivated it.

He also pointed out that the naib tehsildar, colonisation, had no jurisdiction to lease the land; so the lease itself was null and void.

But the court ruled that since the lease had the collector's approval, it was valid.

The petitioners thus won the case. The Chanderi civil court said as the Farm Development Corporation had developed the land, it could keep it. But the government would have to provide another plot to Sushila Singh and Mala Anand. Or compensate them in cash.

At that stage the petitioners had not asked for money. They just wanted the land.

The court also held that the government's confiscation was illegal, as it had not informed the petitioners before taking over the land.

But there was evidence of how Sushila Singh had been informed of the take-over. She had also acknowledged the notification. She had written back saying she needed a couple of weeks to settle the tax dues.

Secondly, there was proof that the land was not cultivated. Which vindicated the government take-over.

But the court chose to believe Brijendra Singh, who said he had cultivated the land.

When rediff.com pointed out to Idrees Khan Pathan, the advocate for the petitioners, that only wild grass grew on the land, that it had not been worked on, he replied that even growing grass amounted to cultivation in the eyes of the law.

THE Farm Development Corporation appealed against the judgment in the court of the additional district judge in Mungawali. The earlier judgment was upheld. This took 14 months.

The corporation then approached the Gwalior high court. The court ordered that as it was an old case it should be disposed off within six months.

The appeal was filed on January 12, 1998. The judgment came within two months, by mid-March.

Again, the lower court's judgment was upheld.

The high court quoted two documents, which it said was proof of revenue paid.

The order sheet, which details the orders passed by the revenue court, shows that when the tehsildar started proceedings for the confiscation of the land under section 176 of the Madhya Pradesh Land Revenue Code in 1965, Brijendra Singh was present.

Sushila Singh had said she had handed over the land to Brijendra Singh to cultivate. The order sheet records him as saying that he would give the notice of the land take-over to Sushila Singh, who was then living in Morar, near Gwalior. It also shows that a registered letter was sent to her, to which she replied.

Mala Anand was not available for comment. rediff.com was told that neither she nor any other family member would speak to the media.

All along, it was the Farm Development Corporation that fought the battle. It filed a special leave petition on July 13, 1998 in the Supreme Court. That was in the process of getting admitted, but was withdrawn on August 18, 1998 by the Digvijay Singh government.

The Corporation officials were surprised. The government had a strong case and they were hoping the Supreme Court would reverse the earlier judgments.

MADHYA Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh told rediff.com he had taken the decision after consulting his legal officers. They, he said, were of the view that the state government did not have a case.

"We had lost in three different courts and there was no point in losing in the fourth one," he said.

The state government has now offered a smaller plot to the complainants. It cannot give the whole 114 acres, as that would violate the Rural Ceiling Act. In lieu of the rest, it is ready to provide cash. A proposal to this effect has been sent.

After the special leave petition challenging the earlier judgments was withdrawn by the state government, the petitioners demanded Rs 1.24 crore (Rs 12.4 million) as compensation. Even Brijendra Singh admits the land is worth only Rs 3,000 to Rs 5,000 an acre. Even if you take the rate at Rs 20,000 an acre, the compensation for the 114 acres would be only Rs 22,80,000.

Why, then, do the petitioners ask for Rs 12.4 million?

Part 4: The government flip-flops     Back to The Tangled Plot
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