This article is written by Rida Zaidi, a law student of the Faculty of Law, Aligarh Muslim University. The author aims to analyze the question of whether a person can be dispossessed from his property without the sanction of law as the Right to Property ceases to be a fundamental right

Introduction

Right to Property used to be one of the fundamental rights of the citizens of India until 1978. With the 44th Constitutional Amendment, 1978 it ceased to be a fundamental right. As the Court held in the case of Vimlaben Ajitbhai Patel v Vatslaben Ashokbhai Patel (2008), the Right to Property, though not a fundamental right, remains a human right and constitutional right under Article 300A of the Constitution. According to Article 300A of the Constitution, no person can be deprived of his property except by the authority of law. In the case of Hari Krishna Mandir Trust v State of Maharashtra & Ors (2013) the Court observed that where the executive takes over any private property for the benefit of the public, the state has to compensate the concerned party to compensate for the injury caused- statutory authorities are bound to pay adequate compensation. 

The Supreme Court has restated that forced dispossession of a person of his private property without due process of law is a violation of Human Rights. The principal question of whether a person can be dispossessed of his property without the due process of law as the Right to Property ceases to be a fundamental right was decided by the Supreme Court in the case of Vidya Devi v State of Himachal Pradesh & Ors (2020). The Court was of the view that no person can be dispossessed of his property without the Sanction of law or due process of law. 

This article shall deal with the case of Vidya Devi v State of Himachal Pradesh & Ors (2020) to answer this question in detail.

Right to property

Right to property was one of the fundamental rights till the year 1950. It was terminated as a basic right and was reintroduced as a constitutional right in 1978. The Right to Property is the second most disputable right and it is the right that has been amended or edited the most amongst all the other rights. The Right to Property is the only right that was withdrawn from the list of fundamental rights by the 44th Constitutional Amendment Act. The Right to Property is now a constitutional right under Article 300A of the Constitution. It is not just a constitutional right but also a human right that was held by the Court in the case of State of Haryana v Mukesh Kumar (2011). The implication of the 44th Amendment Act is that only the High Courts can challenge any legislation that violates the fundamental right of property. After the repeal of Article 31A, the State does not have any obligation to pay compensation to someone whose land has been taken over by an authority that has the backing of a statute that was passed by the Parliament. 

Right to property, though now not a fundamental right, still remains a precious constitutional right. The significance of the Right to Property was pointed out in the case of B.K. Ravichandra v Union of India (2020). The precedence of the Right to Property as a fundamental right may have been diminished but is safeguarded by the rule of law. The articulation of Article 300A is important as it along with its resemblance with Article 21 and Article 265 which upholds the supremacy of the law. There have been several judgements of the Supreme Court where it has upheld the sanctity of the Right to Property and has safeguarded the people’s right to their private property as per Article 300A of the Constitution. The Supreme Court has held in the landmark case of Vidya Devi v State of Himachal Pradesh & Ors (2020) that a person cannot be dispossessed from his property without the procedure established by law.

Vidya Devi v. State of Himachal Pradesh & Ors (2020)

Appellant- Vidya Devi

Respondent- State of Himachal Pradesh & Ors

Court- Supreme Court of India

Bench- Honourable Ms Malhotra, Ajay Rastogi

Date of judgement- 8th January 2020

Facts of the Case

  1. The appellant is an 80-year-old illiterate widow who was forcefully disposed of her property.
  2. The appellant was disposed of from her property on account of the construction of a major district road- Nadaun- Sujanpur road.
  3. The construction of the road was completed by the year 1975.
  4. One of the nearby situated persons whose land was also taken over by the state for some public purpose filed a writ petition in 2004 before the High Court of Himachal Pradesh.
  5. The High Court permitted the petition of the neighbouring people and directed the state to acquire the land of the writ petitioners under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.
  6. The state initiated the acquisition proceedings with respect to the lands of the writ petitioners and not of the other people whose lands were also overtaken. 

Appellant’s contentions

  1. The appellant came to know about the writ petitions in 2010 when she along with her two daughters filed a civil writ petition before the Himachal Pradesh High Court to compensate them or to proceed with the acquisition proceedings under the Land Acquisition Act,1894.

Respondent’s contentions

  1. The respondents’ land was overtaken in 1967-68 and 42 years have passed. The title has now been converted into ‘adverse possession’ and the only remedy available to the appellants is a civil suit.
  2. The State also contended that they informed the general public by way of a notification dated in 2008 regarding a neighbourhood land which was similarly taken over from its owners.
  3. The writ petition is barred as there has been a long delay in the filing of a civil writ petition.
  4. The State has occupied the land after taking it over from the appellants. The predecessors of the appellants have given their consent orally for its utilization without any objection.

Analysis of the Court

The Court observed that the appellant was wrongfully disposed of from her property in 1967 when the Right to Property was a fundamental right as guaranteed under Article 31 of Part III of the Constitution. According to Article 31, no person can be disposed of his private property without the procedure established by law. Dispossessing a person from his property is violative of a person’s human right in a welfare State and his constitutional right under Article 300A of the Constitution. A person cannot be dispossessed from his property without paying just compensation and is a violation of his then fundamental right in 1967. The Court rejected the contention of the respondent that it has obtained the consent of the appellant’s predecessors as there was no evidence found which could prove this fact. The Court also pointed out the State cannot perfect its title by invoking the doctrine of ‘adverse possession’ to seize the land of its citizens. The Court also highlighted the point that there is no limitation period prescribed as to the exercise of the powers of the Court to do substantial justice. 

The Court laid down that the State is directed to compensate the appellant on the same terms which were given in the order executed for the writ petitioner. The State was directed to pay legal costs of Rs 100,0000 to the appellants. If an appeal is filed within 8 weeks from the date of compensation being paid to the appellant it would be deemed to be filed within the limitation period and would be decided upon its merits.

Judgment

The Court held that the concerned matter has disputed questions of law and fact and the writ petitions cannot be adjudicated keeping in mind the limitation period which has already expired. The Court permitted the appellants to file a civil suit. A review petition was filed which was dismissed and a civil suit was initiated

Previous judgments 

  1. Petroleum Corporation Ltd v. Darius Shapur Chenai (2005)

The Court held that the State in the exercise of its ‘eminent domain’ under Article 300A of the Constitution may acquire the private property of a person but it should be acquired for the benefit of the public and reasonable compensation has to be paid for the same.

  1. N Padmamma v. S. Ramakrishna Reddy (2008)

The Court held that the Right to property is a human as well as a constitutional right under Article 300A of the Constitution and the provisions of Article 300A of the Constitution should be construed strictly.

  1. Jilubhai Nanbhai Kachar v. State of Gujarat (1994)

The Court observed that Article 300A of the Constitution only restricts the power of the State to not deprive a person of his property without the sanction of law but the State could do the same through some other mode which shall not amount to acquisition or dispossession under Article 300A of the Constitution.

  1. Tukaram Kana Joshi & Ors v. M.I.D.C & Ors (2012)

The Court held that the State has to comply with the procedure established by law for acquisition, requisition or any other mode provided in the statute. But the State cannot acquire any other status for itself which is beyond what is provided in the Constitution.

  1. State of Haryana v. Mukesh Kumar (2011)

The Court held that the Right to Property is not just a constitutional or statutory right but a human right as well.

Conclusion

The principal question dealt with under this article is whether a person can be dispossessed from his property without due process of law as the Right to Property ceases to be a fundamental right. The landmark case of Vidya Devi v State of Himachal Pradesh & Ors (2020) decided the issue that a person cannot be dispossessed from his property without the due process of law as laid down under Article 300A of the Constitution. The Court held that the State can only take over a person’s property by the sanction of law which is done for the public interest and reasonable compensation is paid to the injured party. The Court also emphasised the point that it cannot perfect its title by invoking the doctrine of adverse possession. The Court observed that dispossessing a person from his private property would be violative of his human rights. The State could only acquire someone’s private property with the authority of law and the State in doing so cannot acquire any other status for itself which is beyond what is prescribed in the Constitution but can do so by any other mode which does not amount to acquisition or dispossession. The court in the exercise of its powers under Article 32 and Article 146 of the Constitution can do substantial justice and there is no limitation period prescribed for the same.

References

  1. https://www.barandbench.com/news/litigation/state-cannot-dispossess-anyone-of-their-land-without-due-process-of-law-supreme-court
  2. https://www.mondaq.com/india/constitutional-administrative-law/1069632/supreme-court-reiterates-the-importance-of-right-to-property-as-a-valuable-constitutional-right
  3. https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/law-divesting-property-rights-strictly-followed-153481
  4. https://www.latestlaws.com/latest-news/sc-expounds-to-forcibly-dispossess-a-person-of-his-her-private-property-without-following-due-process-of-law-would-be-violative-of-a-human-right-and-constitutional-right-read-judgm 
  5. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/state-cannot-deprive-citizens-of-their-property-without-sanction-of-law-sc/articleshow/73160547.cms.

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