By Our Staff Reporter
New Delhi: Savithramma from SPS Nellore district wasn’t paid compensation for land taken over by revenue authorities in 2015.
What followed was a 6-year-long legal battle to get her due.
On Thursday, four serving IAS officers and a retired one were found guilty of contempt of court by the Andhra Pradesh High Court and were sentenced to varying jail terms or fines.
The order came after a six-year-long legal fight and a contempt petition filed by a 62-year-old woman agriculturalist.
The convicted IAS officers are Chief Minister’s Additional Secretary and former Collector of SPS Nellore district Revu Mutyala Raju, former Collector M.V. Seshagiri Babu, SPS Nellore district Collector K.V.N. Chakradhara, Principal Finance Secretary Shamsher Singh Rawat and retired IAS officer Manmohan Singh, the former Principal Secretary (Revenue).
Singh was sentenced to four weeks in prison along with a fine of Rs 1,000, Raju was sentenced to two weeks imprisonment along with a Rs 1,000 fine and Rawat was fined Rs 2,000 and sentenced with one month imprisonment.
Babu and Chakradhara were fined Rs 2,000 each.
The court order came on a contempt plea filed by agriculturist Savithramma of SPS Nellore district, who wasn’t paid compensation after the land that she held as a pattadar was taken over by the revenue authorities in 2015.
She was paid the amount only in March this year after having approached the Lokayukta (the Indian Parliamentary ombudsman) once and the High Court twice — through a writ petition and a contempt case.
In the judgment, Justice Battu Devanand called the case a “classic example of the lethargy of the bureaucrats in attending the problems of the common public and their willful disobedient attitude towards the orders of the Constitutional Court”.
The court also took note of the “hardships” faced by Savithramma since 2015 and blamed it on the “wilful disobedience” of the respondent authorities.
It observed, “This Court already noticed that the land was taken away by advance compensation from the petitioner in the year 2015.
So, from the year 2015, the petitioner, who is 62 years old aged widow is facing serious hardships for her survival at this old age.”
With this observation, the judge ordered the state government to pay Rs 1 lakh as costs to the the petitioner.
It, however, made it clear that it does not want to “burden the public exchequer” with these costs and so these costs “should be recovered from the erring officers by the state government”.
The court also ordered suspension of the sentence awarded to the officers, for a period of four weeks, to allow them to file an appeal against the order.
6-year-long legal battle
Savithramma’s husband, Tallapaka Venkataiah, was granted 3 acres land as a pattadar, which means that he held the land directly under the government, with the liability to pay land revenue for the land.
When he passed away in April 1998, the possession of the land passed to Savithramma.
However, this land was taken away by the revenue authorities in June 2015 and allotted to National Institute of Mentally Handicapped, for construction of a regional centre, without notice or payment of compensation.
Savithramma then filed a complaint against the acquisition with the Lokayukta, and in response, the District Collector of Nellore told the court in December 2016 that Savithramma would be paid compensation along with other pattadars, after due enquiry.
However, instead of paying the compensation, the tehsildar Venkatachalam issued an antedated notice to her, dated 5 November 2016, asking her why the patta granted to her should not be cancelled, alleging that she was not cultivating the land.
Savithramma then approached the Andhra Pradesh HC, which passed an order in February 2017, directing payment of compensation to her within three months.
When the respondent authorities failed to pay the compensation amount, she filed a contempt case in the high court in February 2018.
Officers tendered unconditional apology
In its Thursday order, the court noted that the court had directed the authorities to pay compensation to Savithramma on 17 March 2017, within three months from the receipt of the order. However, she was paid compensation only on 30 March 2021.
On the delay, it said: “One thing is clear that due to the inaction of the respondents in taking proper steps to comply with the order of the Court, the petitioner sustained irreparable loss and hardships for four years.”
Asserting that this was a “fit case to punish the respondents for willful disobedience of the order of the Court”, it then went on to determine the liability of each respondent in not implementing the order of the court and sentenced five of them.
According to the order, when the court asked the five officers why they should not be punished for non-compliance of the court order, they tendered their “unconditional apology”.
However, the court rejected the apology noting that it was “not bonafide”.