NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court has said it will subject the government’s land acquisition drives to strict scrutiny as it does not want poor people to be rendered landless to benefit a few wealthy or influential people.
“If public purpose can be satisfied by not rendering the common man homeless and by exploring other avenues of acquisition, the courts, before sanctioning an acquisition, must exercise of its power of judicial review, focus its attention on the concept of social and economic justice,” said a bench comprising Justices G S Singhvi and A K Ganguly.
Quashing acquisition of land by Uttar Pradesh government to set up a jail in Shahjahanpur, the court said though right to property was not a fundamental right, enjoyment of most other rights were closely related to property rights. “It has to be accepted that without right to some property, other rights become illusory,” the bench said.
It noted that citizens’ fundamental rights have been expanded by judicial interpretations. “This court is of the opinion that the concept of public purpose in land acquisition has to be viewed from an angle which is consistent with the concept of welfare state,” the court said.
“Any attempt by the state to acquire land by promoting a public purpose to benefit a particular group of people or to serve any particular interest of a large section of people especially of the common people defeats the very concept of public purpose,” said Justice Ganguly, writing the judgment for the bench.
Justice Ganguly said courts, especially high courts and the Supreme Court, while examining the question of public importance on the touchstones of constitutional ethos and expanded fundamental rights, “cannot afford to act as mere umpires”.
“In other words, public purpose must be viewed through the prism of constitutional values,” the bench said while suggesting that courts subject action under Land Acquisition Act to close scrutiny.