A Madras High Court Bench of Justice SM Subramaniam has stressed that a land grab prohibition legislation is the need of the hour while expressing concern over the grabbing of government lands.

The Court also directed that the Tamil Nadu government looks into the structural corruption in the matter of grabbing of government lands, and consider and enact a suitable law to deal with the offences so as to prevent such illegal acts.

In that context, the Court observed that, "Land grabbing prohibition legislation is the need of the hour. More so, it is essential to ensure criminal prosecution is initiated against land grabbers. Land grabbing definitely attracts the provisions of the Indian Penal Code. The criminality attached to land grabbing is undisputed. Land grabbing is equivalent to theft of another's property. But more serious is grabbing of Government owned land. This is unquestionably an offence against the State."

It was further said that, "The respondents are directed to look into the structural corruptions in the matter of grabbing of government lands, consider and enact suitable law to deal with the offences, so as to prevent such illegal grabbing of Government properties".

Senior Counsel ARL Sundaresan appeared for the petitioner, while AAG R Ramanlaal appeared for the respondents.

In this case, M/s Hotel Saravana Bhavan sought a direction to the authorities to grant patta for 3.45 acres of land situated in front of the Central Bus Stand at Koyembedu here for constructing a shopping mall and hypermarket with an investment of Rs 1,575 crore. It contended the land which was given to it by the previous AIADMK government just before the 2021 Assembly election, was cancelled by the present DMK government last year.

The Court observed that since the Koyembedu area falls under Chennai Belt area and now the Central Bus Stand for Chennai city itself is situated in Koyembedu and the property is just opposite to the Central Bus Stand in Koyembedu, the land could not be assigned since any such assignment would be detrimental to the larger interest of the public.

It was also noted that the land was wanted for Government projects in Chennai.

In that vein, the Court also clarified that the Constitutional powers conferred on the Government cannot be exercised arbitrarily or capriciously or in an unprincipled manner and must be exercised for the public good. In that context, it was said that, "The state cannot act as it pleases in the matter of giving largess. The Government is still the Government and is, subject to restraints inherent in its position in a democratic society. The Constitutional powers conferred on the Government cannot be exercised arbitrarily or capriciously or in an unprincipled manner. It has to be exercised for the public good. If the Government grants assignment in respect of the Government lands, it would be liable to be tested for its validity on the touchstone of reasonableness and public interest and if it fails to satisfy either test, it would be unconstitutional and invalid."

Further, the Court observed that the case at hand was a classic one where a schematic way of land grabbing was carried out by highly influential persons of the society. In that context, it was noted that, "The straight facts are sufficient enough to form an opinion that the petitioners, in collusion with the Government officials, grabbed the Government land and attempted to develop a commercial project".

The Court also expressed astonishment at the maneuvers exhibited in a systemic fashion to grab lands belonging to the government illegally. To that end, it was said that, "The method adopted in bringing about this systemic violations is done hand in hand by the bureaucracy and the politico. The convergence happens at this singular point. Inspite of different parties being in power across different political landscapes, the convergence and tactics adopted in such systemic violations are all in a similar fashion and is all pervasive across different layers of governance. This is not only a matter of grave concern but raises several serious questions. THIS STRUCTURAL CORRUPTION IS THE BEGINNING OF ALL FORMS OF SOCIAL EVILS. It shakes the foundation of a good governance."

Rejecting the petition, the Court held that the facts established and the documents produced by the respective parties to the lis on hand would be sufficient enough to arrive at an inevitable conclusion that the petitioner was not entitled for grant of patta.

The Court also directed that appropriate criminal prosecutions and disciplinary actions be initiated against all the persons including the Government officials and public servants, who all are responsible and accountable for grabbing of the high value Government properties

Cause Title: M/s.Hotel Saravana Bhavan vs. The Additional Chief Secretary & Ors.

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