The Supreme Court has Reiterated that Though the Right to Property is not a Fundamental Right, It Remains a Valuable Constitutional Right

The Supreme Court has reiterated though the right to property is not a fundamental right, it remains a valuable constitutional right

The Supreme Court has reiterated that though the right to property is not a fundamental right, it remains a valuable constitutional right. The Court ruled this while directing the Centre to return possession of the land to its owners.

The phrasing of Article 300-A is determinative and its resemblance with Articles 21 and 265 cannot be overlooked- they in effect, are a guarantee of the supremacy of the rule of law, no less.

Brief Background

Appeal was made by special leave questioning a judgment of the Karnataka High Court. The High Court rejected the appellants’ claim to direct the respondent (hereafter called “the Union”) to vacate their lands, leaving it open to the latter to initiate appropriate proceedings for acquisition of certain lands (which belonged to the appellants). The Union Government possessed the land in question by requisitioning it under Requisitioning and Acquisition of Immovable properties Act, 1952.

Observation made by Court

  • The Apex Court, while considering the appeal, ruled that,“To sum up the facts, repeatedly the Union asserted that it had acquired at least some parts of the suit lands; these were examined by the High Court on two occasions, and in arbitration proceedings under the Requisitioning Act, on three occasions. Each time, the factual findings went against the Union. The Union’s occupation ceased to be lawful, with the lapse of the Requisitioning Act, in 1987. Yet, it has implacably refused to hand back possession, each time asserting that it has some manner of rights over it. The High Court, while noticing that the Union’s claim had no merits (in both its appeal, which was dismissed, as well as in the impugned judgment, disposing of the writ petition), nevertheless refused to issue any direction for the release of the suit lands. The rationale given was that the adjoining areas had been acquired and were used by the Union for defence purposes. What is more the impugned judgment granted indefinite time to the Union to take steps to acquire the suit lands. The Union has not chosen to do so these last 12 years. These facts paint a stark, even sordid picture.”

“To permit the state: whether the Union or any state government to assert that it has an indefinite or overriding right to continue occupying one’s property (bereft of lawful sanction)– whatever be the pretext, is no less than condoning lawlessness.”

  • Relying on various judgments that call attention to the significance of right to property, the Top Court observed, “Other judgments of this court have also highlighted the importance of the right under Article 300-A, in the context of regulatory laws and enactments, which do not directly result in expropriation or acquisition, but rather, in an oblique and indirect fashion, block the right to enjoyment of properties, underlining that the essential theme of Article 300-A is unauthorized deprivation, which would result in an indefinite suspension of the right to property. The court stressed that the law (of development or town planning, of any other such enactment) should be explicit about the nature and effect of the deprivation, expressing the intention to do so.”
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  • Further, the Court added that it is; therefore, no longer open to the state: in any of its forms (executive, state agencies, or legislature) to claim that the law – or the constitution can be ignored, or complied at its convenience. The decisions of this court and the history of the right to property show that though its pre-eminence as a fundamental right has been undermined, nevertheless, the essence of the rule of law protects it. The evolving jurisprudence of this court also underlines that it is a valuable right ensuring guaranteed freedoms and economic liberty. The phrasing of Article 300-A is determinative and its resemblance with Articles 21 and 265 cannot be overlooked- they in effect, are a guarantee of the supremacy of the rule of law, no less. To permit the state: whether the Union or any state government to assert that it has an indefinite or overriding right to continue occupying one’s property (bereft of lawful sanction)– whatever be the pretext, is no less than condoning lawlessness. The courts’ role is to act as the guarantor and jealous protector of the people’s liberties: be they assured through the freedoms, and the right to equality and religion or cultural rights under Part III, or the right against deprivation, in any form, through any process other than law. Any condonation by the court is a validation of such unlawful executive behaviour which it then can justify its conduct on the anvil of some loftier purpose, at any future time- aptly described as a “loaded weapon ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward a plausible claim of an urgent need.” And thus, observed that the High Court erred in committed an error in refusing relief to the landowners. 33 years (based upon cessation of the Union’s legal possession) is a long enough time, even in India, to be kept away from one’s property, the court said.

CASE: B. K. RAVICHANDRA VS. UNION OF INDIA

Citation: CIVIL APPEAL NO. 1460/2010

CORAM: Justices Indira Banerjee and S. Ravindra Bhat

[The Supreme Court has reiterated though the right to property is not a fundamental right, it remains a valuable constitutional right]

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