ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Eminent Domain and the Right to Land in India

Limits to Absolute Power

As the conflict over land assumes a central dynamic within the "growing Indian economy", forcible acquisition, or the state's power of eminent domain, is critical to various political and economic calculations. This paper discusses the doctrine of eminent domain in the context of dispossession and emergent land and resource conflicts in India. The origin of the doctrine in pre-constitutional colonial law, the legal mechanisms of land reform and acquisition laws through which it finds expression, and the recently proposed mechanisms for acquisition that expand its power and conflate public purpose with private capitalist interests are discussed. The paper examines the dual nature that lends itself to redistributive justice and the dispossession of already marginalised citizenry. It then examines the vexatious concept of sovereignty animating the doctrine, discusses existing substantive limits to its power that need to be given primacy and the uneven jurisprudence around the doctrine. It argues for contextualised rights to land- and resource-use regimes, concluding with observations on the implications of the doctrine's continuing and expanded scope.

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