The Madras High Court on Friday refrained from hearing a case challenging the validity of the Tamil Nadu Land Acquisition Laws Act of 2019 aimed at reviving the operation of three different land acquisition laws which had become void after the enactment of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act of 2013.
The First Division Bench of Chief Justice Amreshwar Pratap Sahi and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy simply adjourned the case sine die since the Supreme Court had on September 27, 2019, ordered that the High Court should not hear any new or old writ petition concerning the subject matter until the top court passes further orders on a special leave petition preferred by the State government challenging the High Court’s July 3, 2019, verdict on a connected issue.
The SLP before the Supreme Court was preferred against a judgment delivered by a Division Bench of Justices S. Manikumar (now Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court) and Subramonium Prasad (now a judge of the Delhi High Court).
The two judges had held as unconstitutional a State amendment made to the 2013 Central law through the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act of 2014.
Land acquisition for public purposes was carried out in the State originally under three main State enactments – the Tamil Nadu Acquisition of Land for Harijan Welfare Scheme Act of 1978, the Tamil Nadu Acquisition for Land for Industrial Purposes Act of 1997 or the Tamil Nadu Highways Act of 2001. However, all these three laws became repugnant after the 2013 Central enactment came into force on September 27, 2013.
In order to save them from becoming void, the State legislature, by way of a local amendment, inserted Section 105A into the Central law to pre-empt the latter’s application to land acquisitions made in the State for industrial purposes, Harijan welfare and laying/widening of State highways.
After the State amendment to the Central law, the Tamil Nadu government continued to acquire land for public purposes under the three laws.
However, when the validity of the amendment was put to challenge, the Division Bench, led by Justice Manikumar, held it to be unconstitutional and also declared to be illegal all acquisitions made in the State under those three laws since September 27, 2013.
The Bench, nevertheless, made it clear that its ruling would not apply to lands that had already been put to public use or if the purpose for which they were acquired had been accomplished.
Since the ruling would have a serious bearing on other lands that the government had acquired, for public purposes such as phase II of the Chennai Metro Rail (CMRL) project, but were yet to be put to use, the State government moved an appeal before the Supreme Court.
The top court did not stay the High Court verdict in entirety but granted a limited interim stay of the portion declaring all acquisitions made since September 27, 2013, to be illegal.
Subsequently, in December 2019, the State enacted a new law to revive the three old State land acquisition laws, which were found to have become null and void by the High Court. It was this 2019 law that had been put under challenge now by a litigant named M. Arunsandron. His counsel Richard Wilson told Chief Justice Sahi’s Bench that the 2019 Act had been brought in to nullify the effect of the judgment passed by the Bench led by Justice Manikumar.
He contended that the attempt to revive the three old laws through the 2019 enactment was illegal and that the only option available before the government was to re-enact those three laws and obtain Presidential assent as observed by the Division Bench in July 2019.
On the other hand, Advocate General Vijay Narayan claimed the State was well within its power to enact the 2019 law and that there was nothing illegal about it.
After hearing arguments, the Chief Justice expressed difficulty in deciding the case in view of the interim injunction issued by the Supreme Court restraining the High Court from hearing any new or old cases.