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Compulsory Acquisition: Principles Integral to Authority of Law

In a judgment dated May 16, 2024, the Supreme Court emphasised that the right to property comprised seven sub-rights or procedures to be adhered to before a person could be deprived of his property.[1]

In this case, the appellant, Kolkata Municipal Corporation challenged the decision of the Calcutta High Court which confirmed that Section 352 of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation Act, 1980, did not confer any power of compulsory acquisition. Through this judgment, the appellant was directed to either initiate acquisition proceedings under Section 536 or 537 of the said Act or restore the name of the concerned owner of the property in the official records.

Acceding to the view taken by the Calcutta High Court, the Supreme Court noted that Section 352 merely conferred the power to identify the land for public streets, parks, etc. and did not provide the procedure to be followed for acquisition. Moreover, the Section was part of the chapter on streets and public places. It was held that in order to compulsorily acquire the land, the Municipal Commissioner had to apply to the State Government as per the procedure enumerated in Section 537 of the Act (this particular provision formed part of the chapter on acquisition of property).

The Court proceeded to elaborate on the sub-rights, stating that though these may be procedures, they constituted the “real content” of the right to property under Article 300A of the Constitution and non-compliance with these would amount to a violation of the right. The seven sub-rights are as follows:

  • Right to notice

Before the land acquisition proceedings are initiated, the person has to be apprised of the State’s intention to acquire his property. The same has to be “clear, cogent and meaningful”.

  • Right to be heard

An opportunity has to be provided to the landholder to present his stance and raise objections.

  • Right to a reasoned decision

The authority acquiring the property has to give a reasoned order and the same has to be communicated to the landholder.

  • Acquisition only for public purpose

A property can be compulsorily acquired for a public purpose and the acquisition proceedings may be set aside if such purpose is not involved.

  • Right of restitution or fair compensation 

A person can be deprived of his right to property only upon restitution. This could be in the form of monetary compensation, rehabilitation, etc.

  • Right to an efficient and expeditious process

The acquisition process has to be completed within a reasonable time. The time-consuming nature of the steps involved, such as identification of land, holding of enquiry and so on, necessitate frameworks with strict timelines.

  • Right of conclusion

The acquisition process concludes after actual possession of the property is taken. With this, the land vests in the State.

Highlighting the importance of the above-mentioned principles, the Court stated that Section 352 did not provide any procedure whatsoever and did not confer the power of acquisition. Consequently, the Court refused to interfere with the impugned judgment and dismissed the appeal.

[1] Kolkata Municipal Corporation & Anr. v. Bimal Kumar Shah & Ors. (CA No.6466 of 2024)