Non-agriculturists in Himachal Pradesh seeking to buy property other than what is offered by the state housing board will still have to seek permission from the government, the Himachal Pradesh high court has ruled.
The high court declined to interfere in Section 118 of the Himachal Pradesh Tenancy and Land Reforms Act of 1972, which makes such permission mandatory.
Dismissing a bunch of petitions which challenged the section by saying it was against the basic structure of the Constitution, a division bench of chief justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice Kuldip Singh observed in their Oct 1 order: "The petitioners are not entitled to any relief."
Several petitioners said drastic changes have been made in the original Section 118 of the act by carrying out several amendments.
Section 118 prohibits even non-agriculturist Himachalis from buying land in the state.
The original purpose of the act was to protect farmers, amend and consolidate the laws relating to tenancy and agricultural land, and also provide for certain measures of land reforms, the petition said.
The entire purpose as well as the aims and objectives have been lost since Section 118 of the original act has been drastically amended from time to time, the petition claimed, adding that the procedure for acquiring land by a non-agriculturist was prescribed under Rule 38-A.
"A monopoly has been created in favour of the agriculturist alone to acquire land, whether the land is agricultural land or subservient to agriculture or not. It has become virtually impossible for non-agriculturists (even residents of Himachal Pradesh) even though they may belong to the poorest section of society to buy any land whether in a town or in a village," the petition said.
"There is no rational qualification between agriculturists and non-agriculturists," the petition said, claiming that there was a violation of the basic structure of the Constitution, more particularly Articles 14, 15, 19 (e) and (g) of the Constitution.
Article 14 deals with equality before law; Article 15 provides that no citizen, on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth, be subject to disability, liability or restriction.
Article 19 (e) offers the right to reside and settle in any part of the country to citizens; Article 19 (g) offers the right to practice any profession, carry on any occupation, trade or business.
The petition said the amendments carried out in the land reforms act, after the act was put in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution have not been included in that schedule.
The amendments do not enjoy protection under Article 31 (B) (validation of certain acts and regulations without prejudice to the generality of provisions), it said.
The court, however, disagreed with the contentions.