Indian court deals blow to Ambani gas project

NEW DELHI - An Indian court has dealt a blow to plans by tycoon Anil Ambani for a multi-billion-dollar power plant in the energy-hungry country, ordering that the process for acquiring land be started afresh.

By (AFP)

Published: Sun 6 Dec 2009, 12:11 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 3:46 AM

The Allahabad High Court in northern Uttar Pradesh state ruled the land acquisition did not have the consent of farmers whose plots were confiscated for the 5.4-billion-dollar plant.

The acquisition “cannot be termed acquisition for public purpose” as it was done for a private company, the court said in the ruling, which capped five years of protests by farmers.

The judgement, announced late Friday, came as a setback for Ambani’s Reliance Power, which calls the 7,500-megawatt project the world’s largest gas-based power plant.

A Reliance Power spokesman said Saturday the company was reviewing the ruling and was “fully committed” to the plant.

The ruling is seen as rekindling debate on India’s industrialisation, championed by policy makers as a way to lift millions of people out of poverty by creating jobs.

Across India, acquiring land for projects has often created battlegrounds.

Last year, India’s giant Tata Group was forced to shift its factory making the ultra-cheap Nano mini-car from the eastern state of West Bengal after protests by farmers objecting to the loss of their land.

Reliance Power raised three billion dollars last year through a share sale, promising to build a slew of power plants.

The 2,500 acres (1,1011 hectares) of land near Dadri, 50 kilometres (30 miles) east of New Delhi, was expropriated in 2004 for the plant by the Uttar Pradesh government.

The government invoked a legal provision for emergency powers to bypass local objections and obtain land, saying the project was for public benefit.

But the court ruled the government had no reason to issue emergency orders and would have to invite objections from farmers before building the plant.

Reliance Power insisted in an emailed statement it had all “clearances required” for the project.

“It is clear land acquisition for the Dadri project has not been set aside,” Reliance Power chief executive J.P. Chalasani said.

The government has merely “been directed by the court to follow certain procedures in the land acquisition process,” he said.

The project is also embroiled in another controversy rooted in a venomous feud over the supply of natural gas that is now being fought in India’s supreme court.

Anil Ambani has accused his estranged older brother Mukesh, head of conglomerate Reliance Industries, of reneging on a family pact to supply gas to his planned power projects.

New power facilities are urgently needed in this economically booming nation, where half of the nearly 1.2 billion population has no electricity.

Industry body CII, while not commenting on the Ambani case, said it backed a bill to be presented to parliament to create government land banks to smooth the path for industrial projects.

“The state could acquire the land and industry could procure the land from the land bank rather than having to procure the land itself,” Confederation of Indian Industry director-general Chandrajit Banerjee told reporters.

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