MUMBAI, 20 March 2017:

A farmer in northern India became the owner of an express train last week after a court awarded him the train in a decade-old land acquisition case – highlighting the lengthy and sometimes absurd court battles over land in the country.

Sampuran Singh approached a local court after state-owned Northern Railways in 2012 failed to adequately compensate him for land it acquired in 2007, his lawyer Rakesh Gandhi said.

When the railways failed to pay more compensation as ordered by the court in 2015, Singh appealed to a district court in Punjab state, which awarded him the station master’s office and the 20-coach passenger train.

“My client is a poor farmer, and he was paid less than half the compensation ordered,” said Gandhi, who handed the court order to the train driver last week with Singh.

“But we let the train go, as we did not want to inconvenience the passengers.” Railway authorities have asked for three weeks to pay the money due to Singh.

As land is sought for industrial and development projects in India, more such acquisitions are being contested in court, largely over compensation.

With a confusing web of land laws, matters related to land and property make up about two-thirds of all civil cases in the country.

The award of a train is one of several odd rulings by Indian courts in land cases in recent years, using the seizure of state property to enforce judgements that might otherwise be ignored.

As cases drag on for years, courts are responding creatively, said Namita Wahi, who heads the land rights initiative at the Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research.

Awarding property or ordering the auction of property to recover dues from someone who fails to pay up – a legal process called “attachment” – is standard procedure, Wahi said.

“These cases are making the news because the properties are trains and cars. The courts may be fed up with the intransigence of the officials, and probably know they would be embarrassed by all the attention.”

In 2015, a court near Delhi ordered a car belonging to the state urban development authority be attached after they failed to compensate the petitioner whose land they acquired in 1990.

A court in the southern state of Karnataka awarded an express train as compensation in a 2006 land acquisition case.

Railways officials in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh handed over cash to two farmers after they stopped the train they had been awarded as compensation in 2015.

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