SC upholds acquisition of Roerich estate in Bangalore

Judges say State can deprive a person of his property

SC upholds acquisition of Roerich estate in Bangalore

The ownership of Roerich estate was claimed by others after the couple’s death. A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice S H Kapadia said the State can deprive a person of his or her private property by passing legislation for “public purpose.” The owner of the property will also have the right to claim compensation.

“Public purpose is a pre-condition for deprivation of a person of his property under Article 300A and the right to claim compensation is also inbuilt in that Article. When a person is deprived of his property, the State has to justify both grounds which may depend on scheme of the statute, legislative policy, object and purpose of the legislature and other related factors,” the court said. Article 300A—inserted into the Constitution by the 44th amendment in 1978—says that no person shall be deprived of his property except by the authority of law.

The court dismissed a bunch of appeals filed by KT Plantation and Mary Joyce Poonacha, who claimed rights over property of the Roerichs on the basis of a will, and others challenging the validity of the Roerich and Devika Rani Roerich Estate (Acquisition & Transfer) Act, 1996.

The State government had passed the Act acquiring the Tataguni estate spread over 400 acres owned by Russian painter Roerich and Devika Rani, known as the First Lady of the Indian screen.

KT Plantation had bought over 137 acres of the property which was also acquired by the state government through a notification. The bench—also comprising Justices Mukundakam Sharma, K S Radhakrishnan, Swatanter Kumar and Anil R Dave— directed the notified authority under the Acquisition Act to disburse the amount of compensation fixed under the Act to the “legitimate claimants” in accordance with law.

“The Acquisition Act is protected by Article 31A of the Constitution after having obtained the assent of the President and, hence, is immune from challenge under Article 14 or 19 (Fundamental Rights) of the Constitution,” Justice Radhakrishnan, writing the judgment, said.

It rejected the contention that the state government had resorted to “excessive delegation of legislative power” to withdraw exemption granted under the Land Reforms Act for Linaloe cultivation.

“Dr Roerich and Mrs Devika had got only conditional exemption from the provisions of the Land Reforms Act for the lands used for linaloe cultivation and, hence, they also would have lost ownership and possession of the lands once the exemption had been withdrawn and the land would have been vested in the State. The land was purchased by the company with the statutory condition from Roerichs and, hence, was bound by that condition,” the bench said.

“Rule of law as an overarching principle can be applied by the constitutional courts in the rarest of rare cases. And courts can undo laws which are tyrannical, violate the basic structure of our Constitution, and our cherished norms of law and justice.

One of the fundamental principles of a democratic society inherent in all the provisions of the Constitution is that any interference with the peaceful enjoyment of possession should be lawful,” the bench added.

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