the government might find it easier to acquire land after a September 5 ruling of the Supreme Court. The court held that the state as a ''sovereign power can acquire land for public purpose". The word "public purpose" could include "industrial and other infrastructural development intended for the common good," a two-judge bench said.
The observation comes in the wake of the Andhra Pradesh government acquiring land in the Ranga Reddy district adjoining Hyderabad, in 2002, for an infrastructure project. The land owners filed an appeal against the acquisition in the apex court after the high court rejected their plea. The court said that the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 gives the state the right to acquire land without the "owner's consent" by paying suitable compensation to those displaced.
Activists say this only makes it easier for the government to acquire large areas for industrial development and sezs. "The phrase 'public purpose' is ambiguous and now the apex court's latest observation has widened its scope for further misuse," said Walter Fernandes, director, North Eastern Social Research Centre, Guwahati.
The court, however, observed that if the project attempts to generate employment opportunities and secure economic benefits for the state and public at large, it serves a "public purpose". Fernandes said that employment options lost due to land acquisition are much larger than employment created.
This is completely against the spirit of the phrase "public purpose", says Shankar Gopalakrishnan, secretary of Campaign for Survival and Dignity. Activists like him say that the process of defining public purpose should be democratic with final consent from the affected communities. The court has said nothing about defining the term "public purpose", they say.
Activists also say that the apex court had no comments on relief and rehabilitation despite most controversies regarding land acquisition being centered on this issue. A bill to amend India's Land Acquisition Act is pending before Parliament.
It redefines "public purpose" as land acquired for defence, infrastructure or any other project for common welfare, where 70 per cent of the land has already been purchased by the private buyers at the prevailing market prices, following which the government can acquire the rest.
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