Increasing electricity availability is a National priority. However, for lakhs of farmers on whose land gigantic towers are installed and high tension lines pass, it has meant livelihood deprivation. Each tower occupies an area ranging from 350 sq meters to 750 sq meters depending on the line capacity of 220 kva, 400 kva, 765 kva. Radiation in the surrounding areas leads to total reduction of the value of the land, as it cannot be used for the construction of houses, buildings, godowns, factories, or even raising plantation/horticulture crops and digging a bore well.
Realizing the huge demand for electricity, the Government of India enacted the Electricity Act of 2003 and came up with licensee rules in 2006 for the licensee companies for generation, transmission and distribution of power. Transmission companies follow the licensee rules of 2006 for obtaining consent of the landowner as per the rule 3(a) by direct negotiation and paying compensation. If it is not agreed upon, the company has to approach the district magistrate with a request to fix compensation under rule 3(b) of 2006 licensee rules.
The magistrate/police commissioner, on receiving the representation from the landowner and making necessary enquiries, fixes the compensation with directions to the company to pay the compensation to the landowner. On receiving the magisterial order the landowner can take the compensation and allow the company to construct towers draw the line. Further, the landowner, if not satisfied with the magisterial order, can take the compensation reserving his right to make appeal to the appropriate authorities for increasing the compensation under rule 3 (4) of the Act.
Violation of the rules by transmission companies
During 2003-2014 thousands of towers were constructed in every state by transmission companies. Thousands of hectares of lands under towers and transmission lines have become value less. Transmission companies systematically bypass the procedure/ rules of giving notice and getting consent from the landowners. They do not inform the landowner of the towers and lines and do not meet the farmer for negotiating the compensation. Companies do not approach the magistrate/police commissioner for arbitration to fix the compensation amount. Land owned by scheduled tribes (STs), scheduled castes (SCs), and backward classes (BCs) under land reforms are totally bypassed in the process, even though they are eligible for compensation. In the coastal areas, the saltpan owners are also denied compensation.
Depriving farmers of future land development
Acquiring farmers’ land without consent to benefit the society is the right of the government. Losing right on land is painful to the owner, more so to a farmer who has sentimental attachment to the land. This is a universal phenomenon. Displacement or losing a value of the land, as seen in construction of transmission towers, drawing high tension lines, laying underground pipes for gas and water are all activities which require to be dealt in a careful manner by the authorities.
The trauma of a small farmer deprived of her or his land with scope for asset creation and future development has large economic and social implications because it is connected with her or his family future security for augmenting income, providing education to children, taking care of health issues, marriage of children and old age security. It is for this reason that even though the Constitution of India has removed right to property as a fundamental right, there is provision for adequate compensation under Article 300A. The authorities vested with the acquisition powers must strictly follow the procedure of giving notice, evaluating the market value and payment keeping in view the illiteracy and helplessness of the small farmers.
Arrogance and irresponsibility by the transmission companies
An example of callousness is the conduct of the Power Grid Corporation of India (PGCI), a public sector navaratna company with 69 per cent Government of India shares and 31 per cent public shares, paid an Income Tax of Rs 2,696 crore for the year 2010-11 and Rs 3,294 crore for 2011-12. In addition they have declared dividend for share holders and also paid bonus to the employees. However, this company has deliberately and systematically duped and misguided lakhs of farmers of their rightful and legal compensation. Why they have done it is the big question which needs to be enquired by the Ministry of Energy, Government of India. The PGCI has not followed rules and failed to pay compensation by representing wrongly that it is a public service activity under the Telegraph Act, 1885.
The PCGI has been directed by many high courts to follow procedures and pay compensation since 2007 (Ref: Case No AIR 2011 Patna 83). The conduct and violation of rules by the PCGI chairman, directors, senior officers and auditors is a blatant violation of licensee rules of 2006 and also high court and Supreme Court directions. Whether these officers can be prosecuted by courts or chargesheeted by registered companies for showing false income tax statements, misleading and cheating landowners/ farmers is a matter to be looked into by the Union Ministry, Parliament members, the company law board and also courts. Their conduct is unethical, immoral and inhuman, for which there is no punishment.
Failure of Centre to force transmission companies to implement rules
The Electricity Act 2003 gives power to the Minister of Energy, Government of India, to give licensee to the companies promoted by the Government of India, states and also private sector. The Act under provision 14 prescribes grant of license, under 15 procedures for grant of license and conditions of license. It has provided guidelines under various sections for inter-state transmission, tariffs, works of licensee, and working of the central electricity authority.
The licensee rules 2006 provide guidelines for the licensee to carry out works. Under 3(a) it directs the licensee to get prior consent of the land owner. Under 3(b) it directs the licensee to get permission from the district magistrate or the police commissioner for carrying out the works. Under 3(2) the district magistrate or the police commissioner is authorized to fix the amount of compensation or of annual rent or of both after hearing the representation of the land owner. Under 3(3) it provides the landowner for revision by the appropriate commission. Under section 4 it prescribes procedure for works effecting streets, railways, canals, water ways.
After passing the Electricity Act in 2003 and formulating rules in 2006, the Supreme Court of India and high courts have passed judgments giving directions on the importance of following procedure of giving notice, getting prior consent, taking into account development potential of the land in fixing the compensation, entitlement of compensation based on diminution value, delay in payment liable for 10 per cent extra payment every year, and so on. Courts have held that the Electricity Act of 2003 be followed by the licensee companies for all legal purposes. It is also held that transmission towers are a property therefore liable for tax. Under the right to property under Article 300(a) of constitution of India, several judgments have been passed which say that acquiring land a humanistic view should be taken and adequate compensation should be paid to the landowners. The Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO), a UN body, has held that land acquisition process in the countries must be efficient, fare and legitimate.
Most of the court judgments against transmission companies were pronounced after 2007. However, transmission companies while implementing the court orders in the specific appellant case have deliberately avoided implementing them in all cases. In most of the cases the Transmission Companies have taken the plea that they are empowered under the Telegraph Act 1885, even though they are registered under the Electricity Act 2003. This has been upheld by many courts, including the appellate tribunal.
Further, court judgments against the licensee are not taken note by the Government of India which is also the licensing authority. The Government of India has not given notice to companies for violating licensee rules, nor has it penalized them for violating rules. This exposes the weakness of the Government of India for its inability to implement an Act of Indian Parliament.
Examples of court judgments
In, 2007 the Supreme Court of India in Atma Singh v/s State of Haryana, case No 2133 dated December 7, 2007, held that in fixing compensation development potential of the land must be taken into consideration. The Supreme Court, in case No 2007 LAWS (SE-5-143) Kerala Electricity Board v/s Livisha, held that 35 per cent of the diminutive land must be calculated as compensation. It also held that for trees, eight years of income should be taken into consideration as compensation based on the age/yield of the trees. The Patna High Court, in case No 1132 of 2010, directed that the procedure of giving notice to the landowner fixing compensation and payment must be scrupulously observed.
Failure of State governments to protect the interest of the farmers
Due to the construction of towers and drawing of lines thousands of farmers in every state have been deprived of their livelihood and also rightful compensation. Over 80 per cent of these farmers are small, marginal, illiterate.Majority belongs to socially under privileged sections. Likewise thousands of ST, SC and BC farmers having pattas do not have the right to sell or mortgage the land they own, are deprived of adequate compensation. Even though there are many departments working to protect the interest of poor and illiterate farmers, no action is initiated by the departments either at the state level or the district level to protect these farmers against neglect and exploitation by the transmission companies.