When the Land Acquisition Act was used to get property for a non-government entity

History thrives here. The State Bank of India’s main branch at Kozhikode holds tales from the past. The Bank of Madras which after independence became the State Bank of India hems the Mananchira Square and recently turned 150. The bank’s rise is documented in the archives. The years were 1909-10 and the then State Bank of Madras on the threshold of expansion. The bank was aiming for a bigger presence. But to start with the property had to be theirs. The Land Acquisition Act was rarely used to aid a non-government entity, but the acquisition of the bank premises was an exception. In his letter to the Collector, the agent of the Bank of Madras presents the bank’s case. The Calicut Currency office had just been abolished and the bank was expecting heightened business. A currency chest, he writes, “will be established at Calicut which will be in the custody of the bank. The accommodation in our present premises is insufficient to meet the required purpose and the bank landlord has no means wherewith to provide the extra accommodation necessary.”

They try their luck scouting for alternatives, but in vain. “There would appear to be no likelihood of our obtaining anything equally suitable to our present ones in point of proximity to the Treasury, an important matter both to the government and the Bank,” he writes. The bank, agent A. Stranack says, is willing to buy the property and the owner willing to sell. Yet buying is troublesome. “The difficulty of obtaining a clear title appears to be insuperable, the landlord being the karnavan of a large tarawad following the maramakatiyam law,” he says. So the agent gently prods to know if the government can acquire it under the Land Acquisition Act on behalf of the bank.

The letter prompts an administrative bustle with records dug into in search of a precedent. Excepting the land acquisition for the BGM College, the administrative officials find no instance where the Act was used to acquire property for such an enterprise. The Collector writes to the Secretary to the Government making a case in favour of the bank. The bank is vital not merely for the government, but to the people of the town, he says. “All government treasury transactions at this station are carried on by the Bank.” He requests that the government “accord the sanction required.”

A memorandum from February 1910 instructs the Collector to submit a draft notification if he supports acquisition using the Act. Another goes to the bank asking if its Secretary and Treasurer are willing to get into an agreement with the government if an acquisition has to be done.

Meanwhile, the Collector carries out the necessary inquiries. The Tahsildar gives his verdict. “The bank is suited to the public in Calicut … there is large shipping trade and most of the finance business is arranged through the bank. The people would find it very difficult to go without it,” he writes. The owner, Kariyatan Kutty Assan of Tellicherry, does his bit to smooth the road ahead. The agent, he says, has spoken to him about the need for new strong rooms. “I am in difficulties and I am not able to do anything,” he writes. “I told him I was willing to sell the premises to him for Rs. 20,000 but there are about 40 members in my tharawad. So selling may not be easy. Objections could be raised afterwards…If the government acquired the premises no objection would stand,” writes the owner.

Administrative proceedings gather steam. A detailed plan of the 2.75 acre plot in Nagaram village is submitted. The Collector also gives the draft notification to the Secretary to the Government. Pressing for acquisition, he draws up an estimate for Rs 20,910.

The acquisition here is different as the bank has to consent to a few conditions. The bank must get into an agreement with the government. The government order from May 1910 reads, “The bank undertakes to enlarge, adapt or erect new buildings within three years from the date the property is transferred to the bank.” The bank asks for a considerably long three years “having experienced considerable difficulty in obtaining contractors to undertake the somewhat unusual work of building strong rooms.” The bank will also pay the government before the land is finally transferred to it. The bank gets the absolute title after satisfying these conditions. By July 1910 the order arrives directing the publication of this acquisition in the St George gazette.

Source: Regional Archives Kozhikode

(A weekly column on the region’s past culled from historical documents.)