Sunday, April 2, 2023

Supreme Court upholds decision of Telangana High Court in dismissing petition over reduction of water spread area

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The Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Telangana High court of dismissing the writ petition filed by the Fishermen Cooperative Society challenging the order of the Telangana Government of reducing the water spread area (one hectare- 2.47 acres) taken as a viable unit for a member of a Cooperative Society to one acre.

The bench comprising of Justice Vineet Saran and Justice J.K. Maheshwari observed that the reduction order of the Government will benefit 2.5 times more fishermen than before. 

“It was fixed in 1983, there is a lot of difference between 1983 and now, the manner in which it can be increased by having more fish or other. In smaller areas, even in farming what used to be found in 2.5acres is now done in 1-1.5acres so the technology has changed. After 40 years, this change is coming. The state is also bifurcated. If 550 families are benefited those families have now grown and they may have diversified. Let others also get it.”

Senior Advocate, V. Giri appearing on behalf of the Fishermen Cooperative Society referred to an example and submitted that if there are 50 fishermen who are getting the benefit, the annual income of each of those people would be 40,000 per annum. if it is increased to 100 then the income will come down to 20,000-30,000. this is not the way in which the Government should work. The Government is acting under economic liberty or economic viability.

The bench states that this is a policy matter, the order of Telangana High Court is well-considered detailed order and further they do not find any ground to interfere.

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Telangana High Court

The Petitioners are fisherman cooperative societies and they are solely’ depending on fishing operations to eke out their livelihood. All the tanks of the society are rain-fed tanks and no perennial water supply to the tank. In 1983, the Telangana Government issued an order specifying the viability norms for each member of the society i.e. One Hectares (2.47 acres) of long seasonal water spread area. Whereas in 2016, the Government amended the same by fixing the viability norms as Ac. 1-OO water spread area to each member in case of perennial/canal fed water sources and Ac,2-00 water spread area to each member in case of all other water sources.

Fishermen Cooperative Society filed a writ petition challenging G.O.M. No.6, dated. 24.03.2016, issued by the Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairy Development & Fisheries of the State of Telangana which amended the earlier Circular Memo dated 23.12.1983 was issued specifying the viability norms for each member of Fishermen Cooperative Society and as per the viability norms, one hectare (2.47 acres) of long seasonal water spread area was taken as a viable unit for a member of a Cooperative Society.

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As there was a large number of fishermen in the State of Telangana and various new projects came into existence on account of Mission Kakatiya and Jalayagnam, the State Government constituted a Five-Men Committee to determine the viability norms afresh for the organisation/bifurcation/enrolment of new members of the Fishermen Cooperative Society. Accordingly, a Report was submitted by the Five-Men committee, who were certainly senior officers of the Fisheries Department. Finally, G.O.Ms.No.6, dated 24.03.2016, was issued with an objective to include as many fishermen as possible therefore the area of one hectare (2.47 acres) has been reduced to one acre. The said government order was upheld by the Telangana High Court on the ground that it is totally a Policy Matter.

It was observed that G.O. is nothing but a policy that is framed by the Government to accommodate more and more fishermen to eke out their likelihood keeping the economic viability in mind. Neither in the affidavit filed in support of the Writ Petition nor during the course of arguments, the petitioners have pointed out any malice in issuing the impugned G’O by the respondent Government.

The petitioners contended that the G.O was issued in pursuance of the recommendations made by the Five-Men Committee that the members of the so-called Five-Men Committee are all Assistant directors of Fisheries and that they are not eligible to issue such recommendations.

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The petitioners challenged the Government Order, 2016 on the following grounds-

1) The G.O. was issued without giving any notice to the petitioners and thereby it is a violation of principles of natural justice,

2) The G.O. is placing reliance on the report of a Five-Men Committee consisting of Assistant Directors of Fisheries and they are not technical persons and scientific recommendations have not been proved,

3) Persons from other communities whether eligible or ineligible are interfering with the fishermen societies or forming new fisherman societies due to which the economic viability of the existing members and the fishermen societies are at stake.

The single bench of Justice T Amarnath Goud, Telangana High Court stated that This argument cannot be appreciated since the Government is the competent authority that knows the competence of the officers in the State and accordingly it has nominated the Five-Men Committee. The said persons have done sufficient exercise and have given an exhaustive report keeping in mind the procurement of seed, investment on fish and. the harvest and finally the income a fisherman would get. “Since no malice is pointed out in the policy of the Government and no infringement of constitutional right is also pointed out, this Court finds that the impugned G.O is valid and is legal.”

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The Division Bench comprising of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice N. Tukaramji, Telangana High court while dismissing the case referred to the K. Narayanan v. State of Karnataka 1994 wherein the Apex Court held that a policy decision taken by the Government is not liable to be interfered with unless the Court is satisfied that the rulemaking authority has acted arbitrarily or in violation of fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution of India. 

Case Name- Fishermen Cooperative Society Vs State of Telangana

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