Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Singur & the Right to Property

There is an interesting piece in the Statesman today by the senior advocate, Bishwajit Bhattacharyya. The author blames all the three, Mamta, Tatas and the West Bengal Government for the fiasco, but emphasises that the right to acquire land - a statutory right - must be subject to the Right to Property, which is the Constitutional Right. He regrets that this principle was ignored in Singur.

The principle of eminent domain has come in for criticism on the ground that it ignores harsh realities. Here is an article which is critical of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894. The author says: "In the past, arguments against the Land Acquisition Act were shot down on the basis that in a developing socialist economy such critique was detrimental to the “welfare” state’s right to ownership of resources vis-à-vis “individual property rights”. This hypocrisy stands completely exposed now, with the State openly championing an economic policy that empowers corporate profit at the cost of its own subaltern people, at times forcefully acquiring land from them in the name of greater national interest, in return for often meagre cash compensation."

At the other extreme, there have been suggestions that the doctrine of eminent domain can be borrowed by private developers of land. Here is one such article by a senior journalist, who himself cites an academic paper suggesting the same. In a recent judgment (Sooraram Pratap Reddy), the Supreme Court has held on September 5 that the State's judgment on what constitutes public purpose under eminent domain cannot be subjected to judicial review. (See para 153 and 167 of the full judgment here.) This article in Mint argues for land swap as an alternative to eminent domain. Clearly, the issue is far from settled.
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