Tvisha Shroff


This paper places the issue of land acquisition within a rule of law framework and analyses the national level reform of India’s Land Acquisition Act, 1894. While orthodox approaches to legal reform have placed a strong emphasis on state-centric ‘supply-side’ factors, more recently it is the constituencies within society that call for and enforce limitations to the exercise of state power that have been highlighted in the context of rule of law reform strategies. The rule of law seeks to restrain government action through law. In the context of its relevance to economic development, it is seen as a protection of private property against arbitrary expropriation by the state. Eminent domain, on the other hand, is the state’s legal power to take possession of an individual’s property for the purposes of undertaking state-led development projects. Both of these legal precepts, the rule of law as well as eminent domain, are in their own right seen as enablers of a nation’s economic development. However, in the context of the ongoing global land rush, it is argued that they can be at odds with one another. This paper illustrates how an attempt at eminent domain action came in conflict with rule of law principles in the specific case of the compulsory acquisition of agricultural land in rural West Bengal in India. A broad-based social movement against this land acquisition sparked the passage of a new land acquisition law in 2013. Specifically, it is argued that this legal reform resulted from a legal empowerment process involving both, rights-based legislation and the activism of non-state agents. Illustrating this case of demand for the new land acquisition law, its substantive provisions, and subsequent legal and political developments in relation to the 2013 Act, this paper concludes with critical reflections on the potential of legal empowerment and demand-side strategies to contribute to long-term and sustainable legal reform in pursuit of the ‘rule of law’ ideal.

Custom Citation

Tvisha Shroff, '​The Demand Side of the Rule of Law: India’s Experience With Eminent Domain Law Reform' (2020) 16(2) Socio-Legal Review 34

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