Ranjit Sagar dam project: Job to oustee a concession not vested right, says high court
The Punjab and Haryana high court has ruled that a job offer to someone whose land has been acquired for a project is "a concession and not a vested right". The court said the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, does not require the acquiring authority or project beneficiary to guarantee employment for those ousted from their homes or land. The ruling came in response to 107 petitions from people removed from their land to make way for the Ranjit Sagar dam project, which involved the acquisition of 11,250 acres in Punjab, 1,226 acres in Himachal Pradesh and 13,820 acres in erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir.
A job offer to an oustee of land acquired for some project is “a concession and not a vested right”, the Punjab and Haryana high court has held on the pleas from oustees of the Ranjit Sagar dam.
“…the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, does not require the acquiring authority or the beneficiary of the acquisition to ensure employment to the oustees or their family members. Hence, the offer of employment is not in lieu of compensation which is equivalent to the market value and the amount of solatium but in addition thereto,” the court observed adding that such a policy is in nature of “concession offered by the executive to reduce the impact of their dislocation from their place of residence or occupation”.
The judgment came from the HC bench of justice Anil Kshetarpal on 107 petitions from outstees from three states — Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir. All pleas have been dismissed.
The displaced were of the areas acquired for construction of the Ranjit Sagar dam project, also known as Thien dam project. As per records, 11,250 acres were acquired in Punjab, 1,226 acres in Himachal Pradesh and 13,820 acres in erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir between 1972-73 and 1998-99. In 1979, the agreement for the project was signed and in 90s, the affected persons were also promised jobs.
For jobs, 769 families were identified in Punjab, 767 in Jammu and Kashmir and 493 families in Himachal Pradesh. As per the government, one member of each of the 720 families in Punjab, 793 in Jammu and Kashmir, and 494 families in Himachal Pradesh got jobs.
These petitions were from those who were co-sharers/joint families, where only one person got the job, the percentage of land was less or some other similar categories, pending since 2011.
The government stand was that significantly large number of oustsees had been given employment and “genuine oustees” have already been considered.
The bench observed that the object of the policy was to provide immediate help to the family of the oustees, which after a passage of over two decades ceased to exist. It also took a note of the fact that petitioners’ names were also not there in original lists and before 2011, they had not raised this demand.
“The employment under the oustee quota is not another regular source of recruitment. It is in the nature of an exception which has been carved out in order to provide relief in special/exceptional circumstances. Hence, the exception cannot be permitted to become a general rule,” the bench further said cautioning courts that while dealing with such issues they are expected to maintain a balance between the claims of the oustees who have woken up from a “deep slumber” on the one hand and expectations of the unemployed youth who are in dire need to get civil posts particularly in view of rampant unemployment on the other hand.