New Delhi (Agencies): The Supreme Court on Thursday reprimanded the government for failing to rehabilitate land owners in the country whose land have been acquired for construction of various dams and industrialisation.

A bench of Justices G S Singhvi and Asok Kumar Ganguly said the government which "granted exemption to the tune of Rs 1.25 lakh crore for Special Economic Zones" was fighting shy of providing employment to the landowners whose only source of livelihood had been taken away by acquisition proceedings.

"Unfortunately, the Land Acquisition Act is being abused in the country. It was first enacted by the British in 1884. The white men have left but their legacy continues. The colonial mindset is continuing.

"Most of them (land owners) are illiterate. They only know how to use the plough. Maharashtra and Andhra are famous for farmers suicides. They are fleeced by money lenders, middlemen and other outsiders," the bench said.

The apex court made the remarks while asking Maharashtra government to explain the number of land owners or their family members provided employment in return for the land acquired for Gosikhurda dam in the state's Vidharbha region.

Counsel for some of the land owners Somanath Padhan submitted before the bench that the victims were without any source of livelihood after about 35.43 hectares of their land was acquired as early as in October, 1999.

It was pointed out that at the time of acquiring the land the state had come out with a circular to provide government jobs in Group C and D posts to at least one member of the project affected persons /land owners.

Subsequently, on July 13, 2001, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court directed the state to provide employment within three months to certain land owners who had moved the court.

The state filed a review petition claiming employment would be provided only after they fulfilled the rules which stipulated that prospective candidates have to obtain a certificate of displacement from the District Rehabilitation
Officer.

The petition was dismissed on April 29, 2002, following which the state appealed in the apex court.

Taking exception to the manner in which the government sought to fight the legal battle, the bench said the case has been pending in the Supreme Court for the past eight years.

"How do you expect people to come to the Supreme Court from places like Kerala, Karimnagar, Mahabubabad, Nagaland and the eastern states. In the name of land acquisition for dams and industrialisation you are taking away their land. Depriving them of their livelihood. You are destroying generations of several families by your action. Because these people are illiterate.”

"Earlier, they were masters of their lands now see their condition. If the government can grant exemption to the tune of Rs 1.25 lakh crore for special economic zones (SEZs) what is your problem in providing these victims with jobs that may give them a few thousand rupees," the bench queried.

It later directed the state to furnish details on the number of persons displaced, those provided with employment and other rehabilitation measures.