The Madras High Court on Wednesday declared as illegal all land parcels acquired by the Tamil Nadu government since September 2013 for public purpose under three different laws. However, the Court exempted properties already put to use for the purpose they were acquired for.

A Division Bench of Justices S Manikumar and Subramonium Prasad declared Section 105A of the 2013 Land Acquisition Act as unconstitutional, illegal and inoperative. As a consequence, the Tamil Nadu Highways Act, the Tamil Nadu Acquisition of Land for Industrial Purposes Act, and the Harijan Welfare Act also become unconstitutional, illegal and inoperative.

In Caritas India vs Union of India and four others, the petitioner challenged the Tamil Nadu Act 1 of 2015 by which Section 105-A was inserted into the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, hereinafter called the new Land Acquisition Act; b) the Tamil Nadu Highways Act, 2001; and c) the Tamil Nadu Industrial Purposes Act, 1997.

There were multiple amendments to the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, not only by the Central Government but also by State governments. Further, there has been heightened public concern on land acquisition, especially of multi-cropped irrigated land and there is no Central law to adequately deal with the issues of rehabilitation and resettlement of displaced persons.

As land acquisition, and rehabilitation and resettlement need to be seen as two sides of the same coin, a single integrated law to deal with the issues of land acquisition and rehabilitation and resettlement has become necessary.

The Bench rejected the contention of the petitioner that the President failed to apply his mind while granting assent to Section 105-A of the new Act. The petitioner has also not demonstrated how and why the impugned State Acts were arbitrary in nature, and liable to be struck down on the ground of being manifestly arbitrary.

However, the petitioners succeeded because Article 254 (1) by its operation rendered the impugned Tamil Nadu legislations repugnant, and null and void, as on the date on which the new Act was made. Therefore, the impugned acts do not survive. By enacting Section 105-A of the New Act, Tamil Nadu could not have revived the three state Acts, that had become repugnant as on September 27, 2013. To revive these acts, the State must re-enact these statutes and obtain President’s assent, the order said.