The contention that the Land Acquisition Act is an expropriatory legislation is reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in a recent judgment (SLP(C) No. 10993 of 2010 Dev Sharan & Ors vs. State of U.P & Ors). The Court was dealing with the issue of invoking of the urgency clause provided under section 17 of the Land Acquisition Act. The Urgency clause does not provide even the minimal opportunity for the aggrieved/ affected persons to express their opinion/ reservation against the proposed land acquisition. In this case the proposal was to shift a jail located in a congested area. The final notification was issued after 11 months of the first Notification under section 4(1) was issued. The court found that the slow pace at which the government machinery had functioned in processing the acquisition, clearly evinces that there was no urgency for acquiring the land.
In this judgment, the court put strong opinion about the Land Acquisition Act and also expressed opinion on the ‘public purpose’ in the land acquisition. The Court said ‘the Land Acquisition Act, a pre-Constitutional legislation of colonial vintage is a drastic law, being expropriatory in nature as it confers on the state a power which affects person’s property right.” In view of the large scale acquisition of land for setting up of industries declaring it as a public purpose the expression of the Supreme Court is significant. It says,
“It must be accepted that in construing public purpose, a broad and overall view has to be taken and the focus must be on ensuring maxim benefit to the largest number of people. Any attempt by the State to acquire land by promoting a public purpose to benefit a particular group of people or to serve any particular interest at the cost of interest of a large section of people especially of the common people defeats the very concept of public purpose.”
In past, the Supreme Court has disapproved the invoking of section 17 without any real urgency. But this judgment has looked into the concept of public purpose which it considers consistent with the concept of welfare State. This becomes important because the proposed amendment in the Land Acquisition Act has enlarged the concept of ‘public purpose’ to accommodate even mining as a public purpose. The judgment ask courts to first explore other avenues of acquisition to satisfy public purpose before sanctioning an acquisition, in exercise of its power of judicial review, and focus its attention on the concept of social and economic justice. When urgency clause is invoked then the process under section 5A is done away with. This section (5A) was introduced by the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Act, 1923 with an objective to give opportunity to person interested in the land to put objections. The Court in this case came to conclusion that “valuable right of the appellants under Section 5A of the Act cannot [be] flattened and steamrolled on the ‘ipsi dixit’ of the executive authority.”
Invoking section 17 of the Land Acquisition Act by the authorities is not an exception but has now become norm. It will take years in conceiving the project, but when it comes to land acquisition, they want to do away with the process of hearing.