SC upholds order quashing TN govt's decision to form anti land grabbing cells, special courts

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The Supreme Court has upheld the Madras High Court's judgement which quashed the orders issued by the Tamil Nadu government forming anti land grabbing cell in police department and setting up special courts to deal with the menace, after noting that such powers can be abused in absence of specific enactment for the purpose.

A bench of Justices M R Shah and B V Nagarathna also said that there was no definition of land grabbing and land grabbers in the government orders issued in 2011.

"In absence of any guidelines and/or definition as to which cases can be said to be land grabbing cases, it gives unfettered and unguided and arbitrary powers to the police to treat any land case as a land grabbing case which will be investigated by the Anti Land Grabbing Special Cell," the bench said.

The court also pointed out even a dispute between two private persons which may be under the Specific Relief Act or the Transfer of Property Act may be considered as a land grabbing case.

Tamil Nadu's Advocate General R Shunmugasundaram questioned the validity of the High Court's judgement of February 10, 2015.

He submitted Special Cells were constituted to deal with the specific problem in the State of Tamil Nadu where large number of complaints were being filed alleging that goondas by using their muscle power have forcibly occupied lands. The counsel also contended the expression “Land Grabbing” does not need any specific definition as it related to offences under Sections 447, 420 and 506 of the Indian Penal Code.

In the orders issued on July  28, 2011, the Tamil Nadu government sanctioned formation of 36 Anti Land Grabbing Special Cells in the state, one cell each at the State Police Headquarters, seven Commissionerates and 28 Districts to deal with the Land Grabbing Cases in the State.

Subsequently, another order was issued on August 11, 2011 directing for transfer of the Land Grabbing Cases to the Special Courts, constituted exclusively to deal with such cases.

The court, however, said, it is required to be noted that the type of cases can be said to be land grabbing cases has not been defined or mentioned in the said GO. Therefore, it will be at the discretion of the concerned police officers to treat and/or consider any case relating to land as land grabbing case, which shall be investigated by the Anti-Land Grabbing Special Cell, rather than by the police officers under the Criminal Procedure Code. 

"As such there is no Anti-Land Grabbing Act in the State of Tamil Nadu like AP Land Grabbing (Prohibition) Act, 1982 or Karnataka Land Grabbing Prohibition Act, 2011 or similar Land Grabbing Prohibition Acts in other States. It is required to be noted that in the other Land Grabbing Prohibition Acts applicable in the States of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat and Assam, “Land Grabbing” is specifically defined. Even the term “Land Grabber” is defined," it pointed out.

The apex court concluded that the High Court has rightly held that in absence of any specific guideline and definition of “land grabbing cases,” such powers can be abused or misused and exercised arbitrarily. 

"Therefore, the High Court has rightly set aside the GO with liberty to the State Government to bring any appropriate legislation on the lines of AP Land Grabbing (Prohibition) Act, 1982 or better legislations after defining and/or providing the guidelines as to which offences can be said to be “land grabbing cases”," the bench said.

The apex court also declared if the State Government is so conscious or interested in taking action against land grabbers, it will be open for it to bring an appropriate or better legislation with the clear definition of “land grabber” and “land grabbing” and the present order would not come in their way.