Apex court quashes Mayawati’s land acquisition for jail

The Supreme Court on Wednesday quashed the invocation of emergency clause by the Mayawati government to acquire private land for the construction of a district jail without hearing objections raised by the aggrieved land owners.

"The series of events shows lethargy and lackadaisical attitude of the state government," a bench of Justices G S Singhvi and H L Dattu observed against the manner in which the state government went about to acquire the land in Jyotibha Phule Nagar.

It all began when the District Magistrate, Jyotiba Phule Nagar, sent a proposal on January 24, 2003 to the Principal Secretary, Home/Prisons, Uttar Pradesh government, for acquiring suitable land for the jail. The state government, however, seemed to wake up only after a lapse of five years in 2008 to the magistrate's request, and at one point, even asked the magistrate himself to trace the land for acquisition. Later, the government zeroed in on some private land and, without any hesitation, invoked the emergency clause for acquisition, denying the owners their mandatory right to first air their objections to the government take-over of their plots.

"In the light of the above circumstances, the respondents (UP government) are not justified in invoking the urgency provisions under Section 17 (emergency clause) of the Act, thereby depriving the appellants of their valuable right to raise objections and opportunity of hearing before the authorities in order to persuade them that their property may not be acquired," Justice Dattu said writing the judgment.

Section 17 grants the government unlimited power to acquire any private land for public purpose, without inviting objections from the aggrieved land owners. But this time the court observed that private lands cannot be acquired by governments in a haphazard manner citing the ground of "public purpose", and worse still, without giving the land owners an opportunity to be heard first.

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