Telangana High Court criticized the state's "unusual haste" in the Etela investigation.
The Judge was perplexed as to how the District Collector could complete a thorough survey of 120 acres of land in one day.
Hyderabad: The Telangana High Court recently chastised Medak district collector and other officials for conducting a survey and inspection on the lands of Jamuna Hatcheries, which belong to former minister Etela Rajender's family members, without notifying them.
According to the court, the operation was in direct violation of the Constitution's Articles 14, 19, 21, and 300-A, as well as Section 153 of the Telangana State Land Revenue Act.
“There is no provision of law which is shown to the court under which the district collector has conducted a detailed survey and filed a report. The only reason shown is that a complaint was received against the petitioners stating that assigned lands have been encroached by the petitioners,” the court said.
On Tuesday (May 4th), while hearing a house motion petition filed by Jamuna Hatcheries Private Limited, represented by its director Etala Nithin and his mother E. Jamuna, Justice Tadakamalla Vinod Kumar made these observations. The petition was filed in response to the Medak district collector and other revenue officials trespassing people's lands in the Medak district's Hakimpet and Achampet villages and conducting surveys without notifying them.
The petitioners asked the court to order the authorities not to take any arbitrary action against them based on a report prepared by the officials that said the petitioners had encroached on 66 acres of assigned property.
In response to the officials' haste in preparing a report within 24 hours by conducting a survey and inquiry into allegations, Justice Tadakamalla Vinod Kumar questioned whether the Chief Secretary, collectors, and other officials responded in the same manner to all complaints that came to their attention.
“If so, what the authorities have acted on the complaints about violations of GO111. Have the authorities never received complaints, which are grievous to it?” Justice Vinod Kumar asked.
Justice Vinod Kumar suggested, citing prima facie evidence of a significant breach of natural justice principles as well as non-compliance with the provisions of the Telangana State Land Revenue Act.
He went on to say that, “If the government finds any violations and illegalities of encroachment of assigned lands by Jamuna Hatcheries, then go ahead at the front gate, not go by the back gate by violating the rule of law and using the force,” Justice Vinod Kumar observed.
The judge was astounded by the 42-page report submitted by the officials within 24 hours of the Chief Minister of Telangana issuing an order for investigation.
He went on to say that, “When the Chief Secretary has directed the collector to conduct an enquiry, vis-a-vis, when the collector had ordered a Tahsildar to conduct survey and inspection? At what time, the Tahsildar gave back the report by inspecting the site and conducting a survey? When did it reach the collector? Is it possible within one hour? What Mr. Advocate General, in your long service, have you ever seen this swinging response from the state machinery,” Justice Vinod Kumar asked Advocate-General B.S Prasad.
In response to the judge's concerns, the advocate-general stated that the charges were made against the minister. As a result, an urgent report was requested.”
The Advocate-General, on the other hand, stated that the report was preliminary and that a summary report would be prepared in accordance with the law. Prasad stated that there is no prohibition in law or the Revenue Act prohibiting the collector or appointed revenue officials from inspecting agriculture lands owned by individuals or the government.
The judge asked, "which law empowers the collector or his officials to go directly into private properties to conduct inspections and erect boards stating that the land belongs to the government, without hearing the affected parties?" in response to the AG's claims.
“The Constitution ensures every citizen has something called freedom or fundamental rights, they cannot be breached by authorities. If so, how can it be tolerated,” the Judge said.
When the Judge read the district collector's report, which stated that a comprehensive and complete survey had been completed, he wondered how the District Collector could complete a detailed survey of 120 acres of land in a single day.
“Even if it is a digital survey, a person has to go for the survey by holding a digital compass on the land,” the Judge asked.
Describing his experience undertaking a physical survey of 18 acres of land he owns, the Judge said, “The report of the District Collector indicates that he might have conducted the survey by sitting in his car and going around the land and prepared an enquiry report in sitting in his room.”
D. Prakash Reddy, senior counsel for Jamuna Hatcheries, refuted the AG's argument that the district collector's report is preliminary in nature. The senior counsel argued that no statute allows an official to conduct a preliminary investigation without first informing the complainant.
The court ordered the district collector, Medak, to follow the procedure of relevant laws on the complaints received against the lands pertaining to Jamuna Hatcheries in Hakimpet and Masaipet villages of Medak district, after hearing lengthy arguments and considering an oral assurance by the Advocate-General that the officials would proceed further by following due process of law.
The court also ordered the Director-General of Police, the Director-General of Vigilance and Compliance, the ACB, and the Superintendent of Police in Medak not to take any coercive action against the petitioners.
The court also issued notices to the Chief Secretary, Medak District Collector, Toopran RDO, and Masaipet Mandal revenue officer, instructing them to respond to Jamuna Hatcheries' contentions within four weeks, and adjourned the hearing to July 6th.