Kedar Nath Yadav v. State of West Bengal & Others, Civil Appeal No. 8438 of 2016
In 2006, the Government of West Bengal agreed to let Tata Motors Ltd. construct and operate a car manufacturing unit in their state. Accordingly, the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation, Ltd. (WBIDC) acquired approximately 1000 acres of agricultural land for the project pursuant to the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 (L.A. Act), affecting the livelihoods of approximately 25,000 people – farmers, sharecroppers, landless laborers, and rickshaw pullers. Objections were filed with the Land Acquisition Collector, who concluded subsequently that the land was being taken for a public purpose, namely employment creation and socio-economic development.
However, the Supreme Court of India determined that the land acquired by WBIDC for Tata Motors was not for a public purpose, but rather by the state government for a company. In this context, the previous government exercised its eminent domain power (i.e. the right of a government or its agent to expropriate private property for public use, with payment of compensation) without following the required procedure set forth in the L.A. Act.
The Court quashed the acquisition of the landowners’ land, declaring it illegal and void. The Court ordered the Government of West Bengal to conduct a survey to determine what land needed to be returned, and then to return it. The Court further ordered that the compensation which had already been paid to the landowners not be recovered by the state government, as reparation for having been deprived of the occupation and enjoyment of their lands for ten years; and permitting the landowners who had not already withdrawn their compensation to do so.
For the first time, the Supreme Court of India drew a sharp distinction between acquisition of land undertaken by government on public purpose grounds versus for the benefit of a private company. Notably, the Court stated that “[s]uch an acquisition, if allowed to sustain, would lead to the attempt to justify any and every acquisition of land of the most vulnerable sections of the society in the name of ‘public purpose’ to promote socio-economic development.”
The Court confirmed that “when the brunt of this ‘development’ is borne by the weakest sections of the society, more so, poor agricultural workers who have no means of raising a voice against the action of the mighty state government, as is the case in the instant fact situation, it is the onerous duty of the state Government to ensure that the the mandatory procedure laid down ... [is] followed scrupulously”.