Supreme Court pulls up Gujarat minister for 'arrogance of power'
In a severe indictment of functioning of the Narendra Modi-led Gujarat government, the Supreme Court Thursday pulled up state Revenue Minister Anandiben Patel for displaying "arrogance of power" by ignoring senior officers' advice and "dictating" allocation of land to a private company in breach of statutory provisions.
"She (Patel) has ignored that howsoever high you may be, the law is above you," the court said, noting that she "brushed aside the objections of the secretaries merely because the chief minister's secretary had written a letter and because she was the minister concerned."
"Dictating him (the Bhuj collector) to act in a particular manner on the assumption by the minister that it is in the interest of the industrial development would lead to a breach of the mandate of the statute framed by the legislature," said a bench of Justice H.L.Gokhale and Justice J.Chelameswar in their judgment.
"The ministers are not expected to act in this manner and therefore, this particular route through the corridors of the ministry, contrary to the statute, cannot be approved," said Justice Gokhale speaking for the bench.
"The present case is clearly one of dereliction of his duties by the collector and dictation by the minister, showing nothing but arrogance of power," the court said while setting aside, as arbitrary, the allotment of about 40 acres of land to Mumbai-based Alumina Refinery Limited.
Noting Patel brushed aside the objections because of the letter from the chief minister's secretary, the court noted the company had written to Modi on June 18, 2009 without waiting for the reply of the Bhuj collector whom it had written two days earlier.
Pointing to the arbitrariness of the entire decision-making process, the court said: "While over-ruling the opinion of secretaries to the concerned department, the minister was expected to give some reasons in support of the view she was taking. No such reason has come on record in her file notings."
Taking exception to the manner of Patel's functioning, the court said: "A higher civil servant normally has had a varied experience and the ministers ought not to treat his opinion with scant respect. If ministers want to take a different view, there must be compelling reasons, and the same must be reflected on the record."
"In the present case", the court said, "the secretaries had given advice in accordance with the statute and yet the minister has given a direction to act contrary thereto and permitted the sale which is clearly in breach of the statute".
"There is a certain inbuilt wisdom in the statute which is the mandate of the legislature which represents the people. The minister has clearly failed to pay respect to the same," it said.
Noting India is essentially a land of villages and despite urbanization and industrialization, the court said that a large part of the population still depends on agriculture for sustenance.
"Lands are, therefore, required to be retained for agricultural purposes. They are also required to be protected from the damage of industrial pollution."
"Bonafide industrial activity may mean good income to the entrepreneurs, but it should also result into good employment and revenue to the state, causing least pollution and damage to the environment and adjoining agriculturists," it said, adding the district official has to examine all these aspects.
"It was expected of the government and the revenue minister to take cognizance of these apprehensions of the farmers as well as the statutory provisions brought to her notice by the secretaries," it said, setting aside the Gujarat High Court's Aug 30, 2012, order rejecting the PIL by Dipak Babaria that land allocation order was "arbitrary and bad in law".
It said that sum of Rs. 1.20 crore that the company had paid to original buyer, the Mumbai-based Indigold Refinery Limited, be treated as a compensation that the state had to pay.
The court however said since Alumina Refinery Ltd has already made sufficient investments, the land could be given to it if it paid the balance of Rs.3.15 crore to the state.
(Posted on 23-01-2014)