On 5 January 2017, a division bench of the joint high court for the states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh pronounced a judgement barring the use of Government Order 123, or GO123, a notification issued by the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government in July 2015. A short, two-page order, the GO123 allowed the government to purchase land from “willing land owners” for any purpose, including development projects. It directed that a district-level land-procurement committee be set up to negotiate with the landowners. The GO123 stated that this committee could settle on a compensation amount based on the value of the land, perceived loss of livelihood, the cost required for rehabilitation and resettlement of the land owners “and others”—although it did not specify who this might include.
GO123 had first been quashed, on 3 August 2016, by a single judge of the high court. The Telangana government subsequently appealed the judgment before the high court. The court stayed the single-judge judgment on 9 August 2016—consequently allowing the operation of GO123—until its decision on 5 January 2017. The court orders were responses to several petitions filed by villagers from among others, Medak and Siddipet districts of the state. Since August 2015, the state government has been attempting to acquire land in these districts for the construction of a reservoir with a volume of 50 TMC—denoting thousand million cubic feet. If constructed, the Mallana Sagar reservoir will submerge 14 villages located in these districts. Though the government has not yet released official numbers, news reports put the cost of the reservoir at Rs 9,800 crore. The government reportedly aims to acquire close to 24,000 acres of land, of which 20,079 acres are privately owned, and 3,000 acres are under forest cover. According to a fact-finding report released by Telangana Atmagourava Vedika, a Hyderabad-based informal organisation of activists, journalists and academics, 3,112 houses and 30,000 people are likely to be displaced by the construction of this reservoir.
The high court order was a blow to the state government. Though the state assembly had passed a bill to ease the government’s land-acquisition efforts only a few days earlier, the bill had not yet been signed into law. The court order effectively ensured that, until the bill became law, the government would be able to acquire land only under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation, and Resettlement Act of 2013 or the LARR—the existing central law, and which the GO123 had attempted to bypass.