Eminent Domain in India

We just came across an interesting article from The Hindustan Business Line – Sudanshu Ranjan, New Legal Regime Gets Under Way, October 23, 2011 — click here. It provides a concise summary of how Indian right-to-take law evolved, and the sad story is not all that much different  from the gradual judicial erosion of property owner rights over here.

“The definition of ‘public purpose’ should have been narrowed down to the minimum, little scope for discretionary interpretation. The Land Acquisition Act, 1894 did not define the term ‘public purpose’, and so, it was left to the courts to interpret it.”Even in 1971, when the right to property was a fundamental right, the Supreme Court, in Jage Ram v. State of Haryana (1971), rather surprisingly, took a very wide view of the term and left it to the state governments to define the terms. Prior to this, the courts had protected the right to property, which led to several Constitutional amendments.

“The logic behind ‘public purpose’ is that the state would always act in the larger public interest.

“However, recent experiences have belied this assumption. Land acquisition in Greater Noida was set aside because the land use was changed without any justification to benefit builders. The state acted like a property dealer.

“For over two decades, the state has been using its power to acquire land for use by private industries whose aim is to earn profit above all else.”

A familiar story, isn’t it? With a track record like that it’s small wonder that digruntled Indian farmers (who don’t have much to begin with) are turning to violent Maoist rebels for help. But at least Indian courts draw the line at the state acting as a “property dealer” for private, profit-making enterprises.

For our earlier dispatch about Indian eminent domain law, click here.


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