New Delhi, Nov 24 : The Supreme Court said on Tuesday that although the right to property is not a fundamental right protected under the Constitution, it remains a valuable constitutional right.
The top court directed the Centre to return the lands of some owners in south Bengaluru, and emphasised that economic liberty is a valuable right guaranteed under the Constitution.
A bench comprising Justices Indira Banerjee and S.Ravindra Bhat said, “To permit the state, whether the Union or any state government, to assert that it has an indefinite or overriding right to continue occupying one’s property (bereft of lawful sanction), whatever be the pretext, is no less than condoning lawlessness.”
The bench observed that the courts’ role is to act as the guarantor and jealous protector of the people’s liberties, the right to equality and religion and cultural rights under Part III of the Constitution, or the right against deprivation, in any form, through any process other than law.
The bench emphasised that any condonation by the court is a validation of such unlawful executive behaviour “which it then can justify its conduct on the anvil of some loftier purpose, at any future time – aptly described as a loaded weapon ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward a plausible claim of an urgent need”.
The top court allowed an appeal by B.K.Ravichandra and others challenging a Karnataka High Court order, which in 2008 had rejected their claim seeking the Centre to vacate their lands measuring over four acres in Bengaluru South, acquired in 1960s for defence purposes.
The top court noted that the decisions of this court, and the history of the right to property, show that though its pre-eminence as a fundamental right has been undermined, nevertheless, the essence of the rule of law protects it.
“The evolving jurisprudence of this court also underlines that it is a valuable right ensuring guaranteed freedoms and economic liberty,” added the bench, setting aside the high court verdict, which committed an error in refusing relief to the appellants.
The top court said that 33 years after the cessation of the Union government’s legal possession was a long enough time to be kept away from one’s property, and directed the Centre to hand back possession of the lands within three months.
The bench noted that it is open to the appellants to seek compensation based on fresh fixation of capital value and recurring annual value, based on the different five-year period for the last 20 years.The top court also directed the Centre to pay Rs 75,000 as cost of litigation to the appellants.