New Delhi : The Supreme Court on Thursday pulled up Gujarat Revenue Minister Anandi-ben Patel for pushing an unlawful land transfer to a bauxite-based alumina unit in Kutch district.

While setting aside the land deal, the court also placed under scanner Chief Minister Narendra Modi for taking interest in the case that has caused a loss of Rs 4.35 crore to the exchequer.

The chief minister’s role itself is questionable in the case as his secretary had ordered the revenue department to approve the deal “at the earliest,” citing participation of the errant company in the Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors Summit.

Anandiben is very close to Modi, so much so that she is being projected as the chief minister, if the latter shifts to Delhi as the Prime Minister.

The judgement on the irregular transfer of some 40 acres of land in Kumka and Moti Reldi villages came on a PIL filed by AICC secretary Deepak Babaria, who hails from Ahmedabad. The apex court also set aside the Gujarat High Court judgement rejecting his PIL.

The agricultural land was initially purchased by Indigold Refinery Limited, Mumbai, from one Hanumantrao Kharat in January 2003 for Rs 70 lakhs for setting up an industry. However, no unit was set up and it was later sold to Alumina Refinery Limited, Navi Mumbai, of Nitin Patel in 2009 for Rs 1.20 crore.

Babaria’s case was that the deal violates the Bombay Tenancy and Agricultural Lands (Vidarbha and Kutch areas) Act, 1958, that permits only farmers — not industrialists — to sell land for industrial purpose. The court held the permission granted by the Kutch collector for the two deals as “arbitrary and bad in law.”

Reprimanding the revenue minister for directing the collector to act in the interest of industrial development, the Bench observed that “ministers are not expected to act

in this manner contrary to the statute…The present case is clearly one of dereliction of his duties by the collector on dictation by the minister, showing nothing but arrogance of power.”

Holding that the minister’s direction “clearly indicates an arbitrary exercise of power” as there is neither a power nor a justification to make any special case in favour of the particular company, the court said it would only open floodgates for similar applications and orders.

The CM’s secretary A K Sharma had passed orders to take necessary action at the earliest, immediately after the buyer of the land wrote to Modi in 2009, noting that it had inked an MOU (memorandum of understanding) during the Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit for establishing an alumina refinery. The revenue secretary, however, had objected to the land deal and recommended that the government take it over.

“It was expected of the government and the revenue minister to take cognizance of apprehensions of the farmers (regarding adverse impact of the industry) as well as the statutory provisions,” the court said, while noting that she simply 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.”

Noting that “while overruling the opinion of secretaries to the concerned department, the minister was expected to give some reasons in support of the view she was taking,” the court said: “No such reason has come on record in her file notings. She has ignored that howsoever high you may be, the law is above you.”

While vesting the land in the Gujarat government, the court held that it can give it to Alumina if the latter pays Rs 3.15 crore within three months. “Further activities of Alumina on the concerned parcel of land will start only after this payment is made,” failing which the government will dispose of the land, the court added.

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