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

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Supreme Court's Schizophrenic Approach to Land Acquisition

The Supreme Court's judgment in the Singur land acquisition case reflects two parallel strands of thinking that have informed its land acquisition jurisprudence: the state's model of "development" versus farmers' livelihoods. It has not been able to properly weave the two into a coherent jurisprudence on eminent domain. The same dichotomy is written into the latest land acquisition laws as well, but procedural protections may mean fewer Singur-like situations in the future.

By Legaleagle86 [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons 

The long and violent struggle over land for Tata Motors in Singur is finally drawing to a close. The Supreme Court struck down the land acquisition proceedings (Kedar Nath Yadav v State of West Bengal and Others 2016) initiated by the then Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led government as having been undertaken without following the proper procedures under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894. The land has now been directed to be returned to the original landowners within a period of 10 weeks. Between 2006, when the plan for a Tata Nano car factory was mooted, and this judgment, we have seen enormous upheavals in Singur, leading to a wider debate on land acquisition law in India, and eventually to the promulgation of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Act, 2013, ostensibly with a view to make the process fairer towards those losing land.

The LARR Act prompted a backlash from industry, which complained that acquiring land for setting up projects to provide jobs has become virtually impossible. A legislative move to dilute some of the provisions of the LARR Act has been held up in Parliament in the face of strong resistance from farmer and civil society organisations, with the attempt to have it passed by way of an ordinance also having failed (Hebbar 2015).

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