The Supreme Court has held that the State government cannot be compelled to return to the original owner, land acquired for public purpose, if, for some reason, the land cannot be put to use for the purpose for which it was acquired.

A Bench of Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice A.K. Ganguly said, “It needs no emphasis that in exercise of power under Section 48-B of the Tamil Nadu Land Acquisition Act, the government can release the acquired land only till the same continues to vest in it and that too if it is satisfied that the acquired land is not needed for the purpose for which it was been acquired or for any other public purpose.”

Writing the judgment, Justice Singhvi said: “If the acquired land has already been transferred to other agency [such as Housing Board] the government cannot exercise power under Section 48-B of the Act and reconvey the same to the original owner. In any case, the government cannot be compelled to reconvey the land to the original owner if the same can be utilised for any public purpose other than the one for which it was acquired.”

The Tamil Nadu government had acquired 513.52 acres in Mogappair, a suburb of Chennai, for the Ambattur Neighbourhood Scheme, and transferred it to the State Housing Board. A substantial portion of the lands was utilised for the housing scheme.

Respondents L. Chandrasekaran and others were aggrieved that lands acquired from them were not utilised for the purpose for which they were acquired. A writ petition seeking reconveyance of the lands was rejected by a single judge of the Madras High Court.

On appeal, a Division Bench asked the State government to return the lands to the original owners. The present special leave petition by the Housing Board was directed against this judgment.

Allowing the appeal, the Bench pointed out that under Section 48-B, acquired land could be released to the original owner only if the government was satisfied that it was not required for any other public purpose.

“Undoubtedly the land of the respondents forms part of large chunk, which was acquired for execution of housing scheme. The report sent by the Board to the State government shows that the purpose for which the land was acquired is still subsisting,” the Bench said, setting aside the High Court judgment.

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