Previously, Tamil Nadu had received exemptions from the Centre’s Land Acquisition Act through which it has been acquiring land for various development projects.

Explainer The Madras High Court quashes TNs exemptions to Land Acquisition Act
news Court Friday, July 05, 2019 - 15:04

In a significant setback for the Tamil Nadu government, the exemptions it enjoyed from the Centre’s Land Acquisition Act was quashed by the Madras High Court on Wednesday. The exemptions enabled the state government to acquire land for various developmental projects in the past. The retrospective nature of the verdict means that the land acquired by the state since September 2013 will be considered illegal, except where the land has already been put to use.

The Land Acquisition Act, enacted by the UPA government in 2013, was established with the aim to ensure a "humane, participative, informed and transparent process for land acquisition." Choosing to stick with the Act, it was operationalised by the Modi government in December 2015 after the Centre notified rules under the Act. However, Tamil Nadu had taken advantage of Section 105 of the Act which stated that the provisions of the Act do not apply in certain cases or with certain modifications. This included exemptions for laying of national highways under The National Highways Act, 1956.

Why is Tamil Nadu exempt?

In Tamil Nadu, three legislations had thus far empowered the state government to acquire land— Tamil Nadu Acquisition of Land for Harijan Welfare Scheme Act, 1978, Tamil Nadu Acquisition of Land for Industrial Purposes Act, 1997 and Tamil Nadu Highways Act, 2001. In 2014, Tamil Nadu amended the Central Act for the state, by inserting Section 105A. The amendment stated: Provisions of this Act not to apply to certain Tamil Nadu Acts or to apply with certain modifications.—(1) Subject to sub-section (2), the provisions of this Act shall not apply to the enactments relating to land acquisition specified in the Fifth Schedule.

The state-level amendment, which received Presidential assent in 2015, enabled the use of the three state legislations to side-step rigorous provisions under the Land Acquisition Act. The petitioners, Caritas India, a disaster relief NGO, argued that the amendments were unconstitutional and should not have received Presidential assent.

On Wednesday, a Division Bench of Justices S Manikumar and Subramonium Prasad held that the three legislations were in conflict with the Land Acquisition Act. Holding that as per Article 254 of the Indian constitution, a Central Act would take precedence over a state Act, the court said, “In order to revive these acts, the State must reenact these statutes, in accordance with Article 254(2) of the Constitution of India, and obtain the assent of the President. Merely, by inserting Section 105-A and the 5 th Schedule, in the new Act, these impugned enactments do not get revived. Since this had admittedly not been done, the Acts remain repugnant, and Article 254(1) renders them inoperative.”

Ramifications 

As per the ruling, this would mean a number of land acquisition procedures for developmental projects undertaken by the state government over the last six years would now be deemed illegal. This includes the Rs 69,000 crore Phase II of the Chennai Metro Rail Limited. Spanning 119 km across 128 stations, the project is estimated to take up 120.98 hectares of land. However, officials had assured citizens that only 27.19 hectares of this would require private land, with the rest being government land.

While the state government may approach the Supreme Court, it may also be recalled that in April this year, the Madras High Court quashed land acquisition proceedings for the controversial Rs 10,000 crore Chennai-Salem expressway proposed last year. In a 117-page verdict, the court disagreed with the stand of the government to mutate revenue records and transfer government lands, even prior to the issuance of notification under the Land Acquisition Act. The expressway between Chennai and Salem districts had caused furore among residents and farmers along the proposed route, sparking protests in many parts of the state.

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