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1.2 NLUJ LR (2013) 1 Understanding the Judicial Interpretation of Public Purpose Under the Land Acquisition Laws in India : A Case of Robbing the Poor to Feed the Rich U NDERSTANDING THE J UDICIAL I NTERPRETATION OF P UBLIC P URPOSE U NDER THE L AND A CQUISITION L AWS IN I NDIA : A C ASE OF R OBBING THE P OOR TO F EED THE R ICH by M.S. Anusha Reddy and H. Murali Krishnan Abstract More often than not, land acquisition involves balancing the needs of the individual with those of the community. The justification for the acquisition on the basis of eminent domain runs on the utilitarian logic of greater good. The jurisprudence evolving globally on this subject has given birth to different minimum thresholds that the need to acquire must meet before it can be classified as being for the greater public good. However, time and again, the judiciary and the executive have seemingly allowed acquisition where the greater public good is not unquestionably served, to say the least. This paper analyses the land acquisition laws in India and undertakes a comparative analysis of the laws in the United States of America and the United Kingdom to present a comprehensive picture of the legal landscape of land acquisition . Page: 2 INTRODUCTION In India, instead of being recognised as a fundamental right, the right to property is recognised as a human right and a constitutional right . This right, according to the law, can be curtailed , abridged or modified by the state only by exercising its legislative power . The Constitution of India provides for the acquisition and requisitioning of property by State Governments and the Central Government . Such powers are based on the concept of eminent domain, which vests in the state the authority to compulsorily acquire land for what are deemed to be public purposes. The eminent domain concept empowers a sovereign to reassert its dominion over any portion of the soil of the state including private property without its owner's consent provided that such an assertion is on account of public exigency and for public good , The principle behind this power of eminent domain is that property should be freely Page: 3 available for everyone and developed whenever the sum of the value to all individuals who would use it exceeds its development cost. In India, the power of eminent domain is exercised since the colonial era under The Land Acquisition Act, 1894 ["LAA"]. Over the years , the Indian judiciary has abused the expression " public purpose " * 1 3 4 5 ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- © 2022 EBC Publishing Pvt.Ltd., Lucknow. SCC Online Web Edition: http://www.scconline.com Printed For: KSLU Library, Karnataka State Law University Page 1 Wednesday, June 15, 2022 SCC Online Web Edition, © 2022 EBC Publishing Pvt. Ltd.
by upholding a generic interpretation, including any purpose in which even a fraction of the community may be interested or by which it may be benefited . The authors of this essay will critically analyse the judicial interpretation of the public purpose doctrine and argue that land acquisition for a public purpose rarely involves any equitable benefit for those parting with their land . Further, the authors will also analyse the " public use " and "compelling case in public interest" doctrines of the United States and the United Kingdom, respectively. Finally, the authors will discuss the definition of " public purpose" as proposed under the Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill. JUDICIAL INTERPRETATION OF PUBLIC PURPOSE §3(f) of the LAA defines " public purpose" using an illustrative, non-exhaustive list. As there is no fixed statutory definition for public Page: 4 purpose, the government enjoys the sole and absolute discretion in deciding what constitutes public purpose. Thus, the government has flexible powers to acquire land for the advancement and protection of interests of the community as a whole. Further, in addition to the executive having unbridled powers to determine what constitutes public purpose, the judiciary has been given a very limited power of interference with such decisions. Indian courts can review the decisions of the government only when there is a colourable exercise of power, in other words, if the purpose for which land is acquired is not a public but a private purpose, or no purpose at all. When such exercise is deemed to have occurred, the same is open to challenge at the instance of the aggrieved party. Page: 5 The courts, while exercising the aforementioned power, have played an active role in deciding the scope and ambit of " public purpose" under the LAA. In 1955, the Supreme Court of India (SC), in State of Bihar v. Maharajadhiraja Sir Kameshivar Singh of Darbhanga 6 bserved that the phrase " public purpose" has to be construed according to the spirit of the times in which the particular legislation is enacted . The SC held that anything in furtherance of the general interests of the community as opposed to the particular interest of the individual must be regarded as a public purpose. Furthermore, a seven judge bench of the SC in State of Karnataka v. Shri Ranganatha Reddy fine-tuned the scope and interpretation of public purpose under the LAA and held that "if the purpose is for servicing the public, then everything desiderated for serving such a public purpose falls under the broad and expanding rubric of public purpose. The nexus between the taking of property and the public purpose , springs necessarily into existence if the former is capable of answering the latter. On the other hand, if the purpose is a private or non- public one, the mere fact that die hand that acquires or requires is Page: 6 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- © 2022 EBC Publishing Pvt.Ltd., Lucknow. SCC Online Web Edition: http://www.scconline.com Printed For: KSLU Library, Karnataka State Law University Page 2 Wednesday, June 15, 2022 SCC Online Web Edition, © 2022 EBC Publishing Pvt. Ltd.
government or a public corporation, does not make the purpose automatically a public purpose". Therefore, if the government exercises its power outside the ambit of the power conferred upon it by the LAA, then the same can be nullified by the courts. Thus, the courts have been vested with the sacrosanct role of ensuring that the power of acquisition is not abused by the government. Contrary to the position and powers enjoyed by the government , landowners parting with their land are left in a debilitated state. By displaying an apathetic attitude, the Judiciary has played a significant role in executing the LAA. without a care for the effects of land acquisition on small and medium landholders, and on agricultural labourers . This is mainly because the courts are inclined towards a pro-development philosophy that channels the resources only in the way of development , which is interpreted solely as large scale industrialization . There is also this false and unsubstantiated presumption that with massive Page: 7 industrialisation, a large number of jobs will be created, whichwill absorb those who have lost their lands. With the balance in favour of industrialization, any checks for colourable exercise of power have been diluted by the courts with their unrestrained interpretation. The courts have now virtually held that as long as some manufacturing, service or business activity is carried out on the acquired property, it will be held to be acquired for public purpose because some employment is being generated. For example, the SC held that an acquisition of land for setting up of a factory for the manufacture of chinaware and porcelain to be a public purpose. Therefore, any action against malafide or colourable exercise of powers has become redundant as every activity is linked directly or indirectly to public exigency and public interest. Judicial interpretation has also expanded the scope of acquisition by implementing deceptive "integrated complimentary schemes". For Page: 8 example, in State of Kamataka v. All India Manufacturers the government while implementing a highway project, acquired land far away from the highway for the purpose of industrial development. The same was challenged as, owing to the distance, it could not have been required for the public purpose, in other words, construction of the highway. However, the SC upheld the acquisition, stating that me project was an integrated infrastructure development project and not merely a highway project. Further, in Sooraram Pratap Reddy v. District Collector, Ranga Reddy Distt. the SC upheld large acquisitions of land for an integrated project to develop a major business- cum-leisure tourism infrastructure centre for the state. The court held mat a holistic approach has to be adopted in such matters. It interpreted public purpose to include any public benefit and stated mat if the project, taken as a whole, is an attempt in the direction of bringing foreign exchange, generating employment opportunities and securing economic benefits to the state and the public at large, it will fall within the 15 16 17 * 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- © 2022 EBC Publishing Pvt.Ltd., Lucknow. SCC Online Web Edition: http://www.scconline.com Printed For: KSLU Library, Karnataka State Law University Page 3 Wednesday, June 15, 2022 SCC Online Web Edition, © 2022 EBC Publishing Pvt. Ltd.
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