Supreme Court Upholds Property Rights: Landmark Judgment Highlights Essential Safeguards Under Article 300A

Posted On - 13 June, 2024 • By - Ajay Lulla

In a landmark ruling delivered on May 16 in the case of Kolkata Municipal Corporation & Anr. V. Bimal Kumar Shah & Ors.[1], the Supreme Court of India invalidated and overturned the acquisition of land executed under the Kolkata Municipal Corporation Act, 1980. The court’s decision relied on the nuanced protections enshrined within Article 300A of the Constitution of India, wherein, safeguards have been provided for individuals from being deprived of their property without lawful authority. The bench comprising Justice PS Narasimha and Justice Aravind Kumar, elucidated seven essential sub-rights that define the substantive content of the Right to Property under Article 300A.

Article 300A of the Constitution of India asserts that, “no person shall be deprived of his property save by authority of law.” The Supreme Court elaborated that this provision encompasses several procedural safeguards that must be adhered to by the state when acquiring private property. These sub-rights ensure that the acquisition process is just, transparent, and in compliance with the law. These sub-rights are as follows:

1. The Right to Notice: This requires the state to inform the property owner about the intended acquisition.

2. The Right to Be Heard: The property owner must be given an opportunity to present objections to the acquisition.

3. The Right to a Reasoned Decision: The state must provide a reasoned decision regarding the acquisition, explaining the necessity and purpose.

4. The Duty to Acquire Only for Public Purpose: The state must justify that the acquisition serves a public purpose.

5. The Right of Restitution or Fair Compensation: The state is obligated to compensate the property owner fairly and to facilitate restitution.

6. The Right to an Efficient and Expeditious Process: The acquisition process should be conducted efficiently and within a reasonable timeframe.

7. The Right of Conclusion: The proceedings should lead to a conclusive end, resulting in the transfer of property ownership.

The court asserted that these sub-rights form the cornerstone of any legal framework aligned with Article 300A. A failure to comply with any of these procedural safeguards would render the acquisition unlawful.

The judgment highlighted how these sub-rights have been integrated into various legislative frameworks over time, including the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 and the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation, and Resettlement Act of 2013. These principles have also been acknowledged and enforced through administrative actions concerning compulsory acquisitions.

Specifically addressing the Kolkata Municipal Corporation Act, 1980, the court scrutinized Section 352, which permits the Municipal Commissioner to identify and acquire land for public use such as streets, parks, and parking places. However, the court noted that Section 352 does not outline the procedural requirements for such acquisitions. Instead, Section 535 of the Act prescribes the necessary procedures. Under this section, once the Municipal Commissioner identifies the required land, an application must be made to the government to compulsorily acquire the land. The government, at its discretion, may then initiate acquisition proceedings.

The court categorically rejected the Kolkata Municipal Corporation’s argument that it could independently acquire land under Section 352. The judgment emphasized that without adherence to the procedural requirements outlined in Section 535, the acquisition process was flawed and unlawful. The court further clarified that even though the Right to Property is no longer a fundamental right, it remains a constitutional right under Article 300A, necessitating strict compliance with the established procedures.

In its conclusion, the Supreme Court stated that possessing the authority to acquire property and providing fair compensation are insufficient on their own. The acquisition must also follow the prescribed procedures to ensure it is conducted under lawful authority. The absence of such procedures in Section 352 rendered the acquisition invalid.

The court recognized the severe difficulties imposed on the affected parties due to the illegal acquisition and imposed a penalty of Rs. 5,00,000 on the corporation, highlighting the gravity of the procedural violations and the importance of safeguarding constitutional rights.

[1] CIVIL APPEAL NO. 6466 OF 2024