Land Acquisition Valid Only if it Passes Constitutional Test

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What’s in today’s article?

  • Why in News?
  • The Right to Property in India
  • What were the Observations Made by the SC in the Recent Case?

Why in News?

  • In a landmark verdict to protect the interests of landowners against acquisition of their property by the government, the Supreme Court of India ruled that all acquisitions would have to pass the test of Article 300A.
  • The SC quashed the decision of Kolkata Municipal Corporation to acquire private land to build a public park, as the law does not authorise the body to acquire the land and the acquisition was illegal.

The Right to Property in India:

  • Before the enactment of the 44th Constitutional Amendment (1978):
    • Part III of the Indian Constitution (Fundamental Rights) included Article 19 (1) (f) and Article 31.
    • Indian residents were given the right to purchase, possess, and dispose of their property under Article 19(1)(f).
    • Article 31 safeguarded the right against being deprived of one’s property. The right was absolute and could not be denied in any circumstance.
    • However, there was a clash, because the above provisions limited the state’s ability to acquire any movable property in the public interest because the right to property was a fundamental right.
  • The 44th Amendment to the Indian Constitution:
    • It abolished Article 19 (1) (f) and Article 31, and a modified version of it (Article 31) was inserted as Article 300-A.
    • This changed the very nature of the right to property in India from being a fundamental right to a legal/constitutional right.
  • What is stated in Article 300-A?
    • Article 300-A states that “no person shall be deprived of his property except by authority of law”.
    • The article gives the government the authority to seize someone else’s property for the benefit of the general welfare.
  • How the courts interpreted Article 300-A?
    • The Madhya Pradesh HC (2022) clarified that the law requiring the property acquisition needed to be legitimate and that the state’s acquisition of land had to be for the benefit of the public.
    • In Vidya Devi v. the State of Himachal Pradesh (2022), the SC ruled that under a welfare state, even the government authorities cannot seize property without following the necessary legal process.
    • In Vimlaben Ajitbhai Patel vs. Vatslaben Ashokbhai Patel, the SC ruled that although it may no longer be a fundamental right, the right to property is still a human right.

What were the Observations Made by the SC in the Recent Case?

  • Nature of right to property: Under the current constitutional scheme, the right to property is protected as a constitutional right and has even been interpreted to be a human right.
  • Seven basic rights:
    • The court said Article 300A confers seven basic procedural rights to landowners and similar duties upon the state which must be followed and fulfilled for any valid acquisition. These are:
    • First, duty of State to inform the owners that it intends to acquire his property - right to notice;
    • Second, duty of State to hear objections - right to be heard;
    • Third, duty of State to inform its decision on acquisition - right to a reasoned decision;
    • Fourth, duty of State to demonstrate that acquisition is for public cause - acquisition only for public purpose;
    • Fifth, duty of State to restitute and rehabilitate - right to fair compensation;
    • Sixth, duty of State to conduct the process of acquisition efficiently and within prescribed timelines - right to an efficient conduct; and
    • Seventh, final conclusion of the proceedings - the right of conclusion.
  • Procedural justice - A significant mandate of Article 300A: The existence of and adherence to procedural safeguards is crucial for the protection of the right to property as they ensure -
    • Fairness,
    • Transparency,
    • Natural justice, and
    • Non-arbitrary exercise of power in the process of acquisition.

Q.1. Why was the Indian Constitution amended to exclude the freedom to own property?

The Right to Property was removed from the list of Fundamental Rights in 1978 by the 44th constitutional amendment because it posed numerous obstacles to the realisation of socialism and equitable distribution of wealth.

Q.2. What do you mean by procedural justice?

Procedural Justice refers to the idea of fairness in the processes that resolve disputes and allocate resources. It is not a practice, but a philosophy and a movement which promotes positive organisational change.

Source: State cannot acquire property without proper procedure: Supreme Court | ToI