The Supreme Court's order upholding the Allahabad high court verdict quashing the acquisition of around 156 hectares of farmers' land in Greater Noida could potentially put a question mark over all such land acquisitions in and around urban areas.
It could also have serious implications for state governments, which the SC said have been misusing a colonial piece of legislation to benefit industrial houses and builders.
The land in Greater Noida was acquired under an 'urgency' or 'emergency' clause, that dispensed with hearing from the landowners' side.
"Even the worst of criminals, habitual offenders and even drug peddlers get a hearing. But you take farmers' land without giving them any opportunity to be heard," the SC had said during the hearing.
The Land Acquisition Act, 1894 provides for acquisition of land for a "public purpose" such as the building of roads, rail and bridges.
But the manner in which various state governments have been acquiring land for corporates, invoking the urgency provision, has raised questions over the meaning, scope and ambit of "public purpose" defined under the Act. Even the SC has said constructing malls cannot be considered a public purpose.
What's more disturbing is that the Mayawati government acquired land by invoking the urgency provision ostensibly for industrial purposes and sold it to builders for construction of flats.
The suspicion is that this has been happening for quite some time and not just in UP. No wonder the court said the Act has become "an engine of oppression".
A parliamentary standing committee, which examined the Land Acquisition Amendment Bill, has suggested several measures to check misuse of the law.
One of the important suggestions is that agricultural land could be acquired only when the district collector concerned submits a report that no barren land is available.
The UPA government has been saying that it will bring in a new land acquisition law for better compensation and rehabilitation of farmers in the next session of Parliament.
But in the meantime the judiciary has once again come to the rescue of the poor and the oppressed.
Can we crib about judicial activism?