In India, If You Take Land Improperly, You Have to Give It Back

It is one of the more obnoxious features of American eminent domain law that once land is taken, its [former] owner loses any right to reclaim it when it is put to uses other than the “public use” specified in the eminent domain action by which the condemnor acquired it. We wrote about it a while back; see Gideon Kanner, We Don’t Have to Follow Any Stinkin’ Planning — Sorry About That, Justice Stevens, 39 The Urban Lawyer 529 (2007).

Out here in California, this sort of stuff is not uncommon. The best known example of this kind of shuffle is Dodger Stadium. It sits on land that was taken by eminent domain for public housing in the 1950s. But that housing was never built, and the land in question, located in Chavez Ravine, was transferred by the City of Los Angeles to the Brooklyn Dodgers to induce them to move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. If you are interested in this sort of municipal skulduggery, do read the above-cited article which cites other examples. Probably the most egregious case of this sort was Beistline v. City of San Diego, 256 F.2d 421 (9th Cir. 1958). There the owner charged that his property had been taken for redevelopment but instead was resold to General Dynamics for a profit. The court denied relief.

Now we learn that this isn’t how they do it in India. The Hindustan Times reports that over there the Supreme Court of India has held otherwise. See Hindustan Times, Govt Cannot Change Purpose of Acquired Land, October 5, 2011 – click here.

There, The Kamataka State Tourism Development Corporation had acquired land ostensibly for a golf course/resort hotel. But the condemnor lacked the funds necessary for construction of the golf course, so instead, the land was transferred to a private developer who intended to construct group housing and “other corporate housing.” Though if the condemnor did not have a budget for a golf course, he could have straight away gone for indoor putting green, which is quite handy, and could have looked for them at good deals. That idea might have served the purpose, and the land would not have been transferred to the private developer. But when the former owner sued, the court took a dim view of that transfer and held that it was illegal, and that the land would have to be returned to the former owner upon his return of the compensation awarded him when his land was taken. Luckily there are Solutions for Corporate Housing in other reputable companies. For example, if you are looking for corporate housing in the United States, there are various housing solutions for businesses that are interested in transferring their employees to different cities. You can even find corporate housing in Santa Cruz, CA here or New York.

True enough, over here we supposedly have a rule of law that disfavors “pretextual” takings, but the courts mostly talk a good game about that, and actual cases providing relief under such circumstances are few and far between. This is true even in states that have statutes requiring a return of the taken land when it is not put to the public use for which it was ostensibly taken. By an odd coincidence, last week the U.S. Supreme Court turned down a petion for certiorari in a case charging a pretextual taking in Hawaii (if you want to read about that event, click here . )

So it looks like in India, they take such abuses of the power of eminent domain more seriously than we do.