The Supreme Court on Tuesday held that the Union or the state government can't occupy an individual's property for an indefinite period of time, as economic liberty is a valuable right guaranteed under the Constitution.
"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," a bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and S Ravindra Bhat said.
The court allowed an appeal filed by B K Ravichandra and others against the Karnataka HC's order which had in 2008 rejected their claim to the Union government to vacate their over four acres of lands in Bengaluru South, acquired in the 1960s for defence purposes.
The court said the HC by its judgment "committed an error in refusing relief to the appellants".
It pointed out 33 years after cessation of the Union government’s legal possession, was a long enough time to be kept away from one’s property.
It directed the Union government to hand back possession of the lands to the appellants, within three months.
Justice Bhat, who authored the judgement, said it was, however, 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. It also directed the Centre to pay Rs 75,000 as cost of litigation to the appellants.
"The courts’ role is to act as the guarantor and jealous protector of the people’s liberties: be they assured through the freedoms, and the right to equality and religion or cultural rights under Part III, or the right against deprivation, in any form, through any process other than law," the bench said.