ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Against Dispossession

The courts have struck against arbitrary use of the law for land acquisition.

In three judgments delivered since early 2011, the Supreme Court has put state governments in the dock for their abuse of the notion of “public purpose” in acquiring land and for using emergency provisions in the law to deny farmers their right to object to acquisition. In quashing land acquisition in three cases, the apex court has chosen to raise fundamental issues relating to the right to life as guaranteed under Article 21.

On 7 March 2011, justices G S Singhvi and A K Ganguly set aside land acquisition proceedings by the Government of Uttar Pradesh (UP) for a jail in Sahranpur; on 15 April 2011, the same bench also set aside the proceedings for acquiring land in Greater Noida in UP in the name of “planned industrial development’’; on 6 July 2011, the bench, once again, set aside acquisition in the Greater Noida Extension Area (GNEA) in Gautam Buddha Nagar district of UP. In all cases, the apex court came down heavily on the state government’s decision to invoke Section 17 (1) of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 and thus dispense with an enquiry as required under Section 5-A of the same Act. The colonial 1894 Act is the basis on which private land is acquired by the government in the name of “public purpose’’ and Section 17 of this Act provides for acquisition in an “emergency”, with the landowner deprived of the right to register his objections as laid out under Section 5-A. In all the three cases, the state government had used the emergency provision and defended the decision on the ground that it was necessary to overcome delays in acquisition. The Government of Uttar Pradesh is not the only one to use the 1894 Act in this manner. A number of state governments have used Section 17 of the 1894 Act to acquire land.

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