GUWAHATI: It was in 1967 when Himachal Pradesh government forcibly took over four acres of land of a widow to construct a road. The illiterate woman named Vidya Devi was not aware of her rights and entitlement in law and was deprived of her compensation over the last 52 years.
It was in January 8, a Supreme Court Bench of Justices Indu Malhotra and Ajay Rastogi ordered Himachal Pradesh government to pay Rs. 1 crore in compensation to Vidya Devi who is now 80 year old.
According to a national daily, Ms. Devi first learnt about her right for compensation in 2010 from her neighbours who had also lost their property to the road. Then, in her 70s, she approached the Himachal Pradesh High Court, accompanied by her daughter. But the High Court asked her to file a civil suit in the lower court. Disappointed, Ms. Devi moved the Supreme Court.
Ordering the state to pay her Rs. 1 crore in compensation, the Supreme Court noted that in 1967, when the government forcibly took over Vidya Devi’s land, ‘right to private property was still a fundamental right’ under Article 31 of the Constitution.
Property ceased to be a fundamental right with the 44th Constitution Amendment in 1978. Nevertheless, Article 300A required the state to follow due procedure and authority of law to deprive a person of his or her private property, the Supreme Court reminded the government.
In its historic verdict, the bench stated that in a welfare state, right to property is a human right.
“A welfare state cannot be permitted to take the plea of adverse possession, which allows a trespasser i.e. a person guilty of a tort, or even a crime, to gain legal title over such property for over 12 years. The State cannot be permitted to perfect its title over the land by invoking the doctrine of adverse possession to grab the property of its own citizens,” The apex court observed in its historic verdict.