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  • Writer's pictureRitik Agrawal

"Understanding the Intersection of Eminent Domain and Tortious Liability in India"

Siddhi Singh,

Jiwaji University


As within the context of India's legal system, this research study investigates the complex link that exists between the doctrine of eminent domain and tortious liability. It scrutinizes how these two legal principles intersect and impact each other in the context of property rights, compensation, and actions taken by the government bodies. In order to provide a thorough knowledge of the dynamics between eminent domain and tortious liability in the Indian context, the purpose of this article is to conduct an examination of pertinent legislation, court precedents, and scholarly literature to find a rationale derivation for the same. 

Ø Doctrine of eminent domain: Meaning

The sovereign, or in a more contemporary sense the elected government that is currently in power is the key owner of property. Since this is the case, the king or the elected government will always have the right of ownership, regardless of whether the king or the government transfers land to individual citizens for agricultural or other purposes, depending on the circumstances. Thereby, we see that the Private property has long been driven as a difficult issue, with opposing opinions seen widely[i].

As one viewpoint contends that the right to own private property is entirely denied, while the other viewpoint advocates for the ownership of private property.[ii] Bur to understand this doctrine in the most comprehensive sense, the term "eminent domain" refers to the highest authority alike that the king or the government possesses and own the power which allows for the acquisition of any individual's property for the purpose of serving the wide-ranging public. The taking of property by the king or the government, on the other hand, has only been made permissible over the course of some years when the landowner of the property in question has been compensated since, it is the superior sphere of the state over all of the property that is contained inside its borders that gives this authority its foundation. However, one of the incidental restrictions that applies to this ability is that the property cannot be taken without providing adequate recompense of the near market values of the existing property[iii]

Ø The doctrine and its Constitutional significance:

When referring to a property and understanding the same the relevant doctrine of  "eminent domain” forms the very basis and thus,  in this context refers to the state's permanent dominion (domain) over the property. Now, since the constitution of India gives the ‘state’ the authority to seize private property for the purpose of putting it to public use, and it also gives the owner the right to receive compensation for the loss. Under addition, the power of eminent domain is given recognition under the Constitution of India. However, this power of the state has been brought to the forefront, mostly because to the mischief that is purportedly attributed to it in order to bring about it. Not long after the nation gained its independence, the Supreme Court was given the accountability of defining whether or not certain laws were constitutional or not pertaining to land acquisition and so. These laws were designed to do away with the feudal zamindari (land-owning) system[iv].

As it is stated in entry 42 list III of the seventh schedule of the Indian Constitution[v] that both the federal and state governments have the authority to enact property acquisition legislation. The usage of doctrine of eminent domain for land acquisition is also justified in cases where the public purpose can only be met by a specific piece of land that cannot be replaced by another piece of land.

In accordance with the provisions of clause (2) of Article 31 of the Indian Constitution[vi],Any acquisition or seizure of private property must be done with the intention of helping the public. A third restriction is that no property can be appropriated unless the statute authorising the appropriation includes a provision for compensation in the manner described in the mentioned clause. The Court was looking into the power of eminent domain because it was under investigation and was further defined by the Supreme Court as "the power of the sovereign to take property for public use without the consent of the owner as seems reasonable in the public interest."[vii]This was the explanation that the Court provided for the power. The significance of this is that the power, in its irreducible form, as follows:

·       authority to seize,

·       not needed the permission of the proprietor, and

·       on behalf of the general public.

Thereby, one of the concerns is that it has hampered the existence and use of the domain authority, that is, the relationship between the state and its citizens. The term "sovereign" foreshadowed this dilemma. The power to seize and the unqualified nature of 'public usage' have resulted in dispossession and extensive movement of people.

The below mentioned grounds for review of this power have been established by the Supreme Court in the case of Sooraram Reddy v. Collector, Ranga Reddy[viii] Supreme Court which are as follows[ix]:

  • abuse of authority in a dishonest manner;

  • an apparent public aim that is, in actuality, a private purpose or a collateral goal; a public purpose that is only apparent to be public;

  • a purchase that was made without according to the procedure outlined in legislation;

  • if the acquisition could be considered unreasonable or irrational or where there is no public purpose behind the purchase, and it is obvious that there has been fraud committed against the legislation

Despite the fact that the government is largely responsible for determining what characteristics form a public purpose, the courts have the authority to examine decisions of this nature. However, if seen factually, the courts have for the most part-imposed limitations on themselves like payment in exchange for the property that was acquired. It is always the case that the interests of the community are more important than the interests of the individuals be put together.

The Doctrine of Eminent Domain in congruence with the Indian Constitution The doctrine of Eminent domain is a well-defined legal concept that permits the government to acquire private property for public use provided the proprietor is fairly compensated. This legal theory is based on the idea that in some cases, the rights of private property owners are subordinated to the public interest which has to performed in due and diligent manner not infringing the rights of any strata.

As through powers aligned as the supreme law of the land that is with the context of Article 300-A of the Constitution[x], as in numerous legal systems, including those influenced by common law traditions, guidelines and restrictions pertaining to eminent domain may be addressed in Article 300-A or other comparable statutes. And the prime objective the statutory and constitutional power is to safeguard property rights and guarantee governmental funding for societally beneficial initiatives, it is imperative to comprehend the correlation between the Doctrine of Eminent Domain and constitutional provisions such as Article 300-A.

Articles of this nature often specify the circumstances in which the government may exercise its right of eminent domain, including when it is in the public interest or for the benefit of the public. On average, the obligation to provide equitable recompense to proprietors is also encompassed.  

As further to understand this let’s dig deep into it and understand the phrase "No person shall be deprived of his property except by authority of law" appears in Article 300-A of the Constitution. As a result, the state can only restrict, limit, or amend property rights through legislative action. It is not constitutionally allowed for an executive order to deprive a person of his property unless it is accompanied by corresponding legislation.

Furthermore, in order to be considered genuine, it must be able to pass all three of the following tests:

(i).  The jurisdiction that is responsible for enacting the law must possess the legislative competence to do so properly;

(ii). The second requirement is that it must not violate any other essential right that is guaranteed by part III of the Constitution; and

(iii). It shall not contravene any other provision of the Constitution.

The Supreme Court of India, in the case of Basanti bai v. State of Maharashtra[xi], attempted to provide a favourable interpretation of Article 300-A to the property owners by ensuring that the conditions of "public purpose" and "compensation" were read into the constitutional provision. A further explanation and sphere that Article 300-A covers is that, the legislature is not permitted to authorise the confiscation of property for the purpose of serving the public as delineation of absolute power can be overused and can be used arbitrary making the objective of the powers turn futile. Thereby we see that on the other hand, the Parliament did not intend to grant the legislature the absolute authority to deprive a citizen of his property solely by the enactment of a law that is written in black and white.

Ø Tortious Liability and its essence in congruence with doctrine of eminent domain

The Doctrine of Eminent Domain further could be denoted as a core tenet of property law that grants the government the authority to obtain private land for public purposes, as long as fair compensation is given to the impacted property owners. While Tortious Liability refers to civil wrongs that cause pain or injury to others, for which the wrongdoer is legally accountable. In the Indian legal system, these two theories frequently overlap, especially when government acts carried out under eminent domain result in harm or loss to persons or communities.

A key issue in the overlap between eminent domain and tort responsibility is the assessment of fair compensation for property owners impacted by the situation. This section examines the difficulties and disputes related to the determination of compensation, including the methods used to assess value and the way courts interpret it. Furthermore, it deals with matters of justiciability, namely concerning the sufficiency of compensation and the availability of legal recourse for affected parties.

In India, the application of the doctrine of eminent domain is not without its share of obstacles and debates with regard to its implementation. Since, a number of issues have prompted time and then as a matter of legal controversies and discussions, including inadequate compensation, displacement of marginalised groups, environmental concerns, and procedural faults. Balancing the goals of development, public welfare, and individual rights presents a complex set of ethical and legal difficulties. There are several challenges and conflicts linked with the implementation of the doctrine of eminent domain in India. Each of these obstacles and debates has its own set of legal, ethical, and social issues, some of them are as follows-:

1. Inadequate Compensation: Poor compensation is a major issue with eminent domain in India. Compensation for landowners is often insufficient to cover their loss. This is especially true given the long-term influence on their employment. 

2. Displacement of marginalised communities: The application of the doctrine of eminent domain may bring down some implications which may often  stand as a results in the forced relocation of economically disadvantaged groups, including indigenous peoples, farmers, and other marginalised communities. This displacement might result from the application of eminent domain. Constraints regarding their economic stability, social fabric, and cultural identity may be adversely affected by the forcible removal; this could potentially spark unrest and demonstrations. 

3. Environmental Issues: The Significant environmental consequences may result from the acquisition of land for development purposes, including the destruction of forests, the emission of pollutants, and the ruin of habitats. As the critics contend, the doctrine of eminent domain is frequently used to acquire land for projects that are harmful to the environment without doing enough evaluations of workable sustainable substitutes or mitigating measures. Many accusations of procedural problems during the acquisition process include corruption, coercion, and lack of openness. Frequent allegations of this nature pertain to the purchasing procedure. The aforementioned anomalies are undermining the confidence of the general public in the integrity and impartiality of the eminent domain procedure.

4.Attempting to Strike a Balance: Since, Development, Public Welfare, and Individual Rights Balance between progress, public welfare, and individual rights may be the most pressing issue. Thereby it’s important that although the infrastructure and development projects are necessary for economic growth and quality of life, but they must respect the rights and interests of communities and individuals affected by them. Thereby, the ethical values, legal frameworks, and stakeholder participation must be considered to solve these issues. To make eminent domain in India more egalitarian and sustainable, transparency, fair remuneration, environmental protection, and marginalised community rights must be promoted. Promote public discourse and participatory decision-making to build trust and legitimacy in land acquisition. 

Ø Recent happenings and potential directions for the future:

A number of recent legislative developments, judicial declarations, and societal shifts have all had an impact on the landscape of eminent domain and tortious liability in India. The trajectory of legal doctrine and practice is profoundly influenced by these developments, which range from modifications to legislation governing land acquisition to the creation of jurisprudence concerning compensation and environmental protection[xii]. Being able to anticipate future trends and difficulties is absolutely necessary in order to guarantee a fair and equitable balance between the power of the state and the rights of individuals.

1. Expansion of Public Purpose: In recent years, there have been major advances in India with regard to the doctrine of eminent domain, notably in terms of its congruence with the idea of tortious liability. As explained above that the authority of the state to acquire private property for the purpose of public use is referred to as eminent domain which is a power typically accompanied with financial compensation to the owner of the property.

The definition of "public purpose" has been expanded by Indian courts to encompass not only traditional infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges, and schools, but also social welfare schemes, urban development projects, and even private projects that serve a larger public interest. This widening of the definition of "public purpose" has been a result of the expansion of the definition of "public purpose." Therefore, this extension is consistent with the idea of tortious liability since it guarantees that the actions of the government are beneficial to society as a whole.

2. Judicial Review of Compensation: The courts have been conducting more and more reviews to determine whether or not the compensation that is provided to property owners is enough. Furthermore, the principle of tortious culpability places an emphasis on the requirement for compensation that is commensurate with the actual market value of the property that was taken, taking into account any concomitant losses that the owner may have endured. There is a possibility that future paths will require more stringent evaluations of compensation in order to guarantee fairness and equity.

3. Maintaining a Balance Between Individual Rights and the Public Interest:  There is a rising emphasis on maintaining a balance between the preservation of individual property rights and the protecting of the public interest that eminent domain serves. The ideas of tortious liability, which emphasise accountability for harm caused by actions, have been mirrored by the Indian courts, which have emphasised the significance of procedural fairness, transparency, and the opportunity for affected parties to have their voices heard.

4. Environmental Considerations: In recent years, environmental issues have become more prominent in the process of exercising eminent domain. During the process of purchasing property for public projects, the courts have acknowledged the necessity of taking into account the ecological repercussions and the goals of sustainable development. This exemplifies a more widespread movement towards the alignment of legal theories with the principles of environmental tort responsibility, which seeks to hold individuals accountable for their actions that cause damage to the environment.

5.Innovative Models of Compensation: It is possible that in the future, there will be an investigation into the possibility of developing innovative compensation models that go beyond monetary remuneration. Options such as revenue-sharing arrangements, the offer of alternative land or chances for livelihood, and investments in community development projects are all examples of what could fall under this category. These methods have the potential to adhere more closely to the ideas of restorative justice that are inherent in tort law. In general, it is expected that the theory of eminent domain in India will continue to develop in a manner that is consistent with the principles of tortious liability. These principles place an emphasis on fairness, accountability, and the equilibrium between public and private interests. It is highly probable that judicial interpretations, legislative reforms, and public expectations concerning property rights and the role of the state in growth will all play a part in shaping this progression. 

6. Governmental Immunity and Liability

Governments are granted certain legal protections from being held liable for wrongful acts, which can make it more difficult for individuals who have been affected by government activities under eminent domain to seek legal retribution. This section provides an analysis of the extent to which the Indian government is protected from legal action, exploring the exceptions and restrictions acknowledged by the courts. The text also examines situations in which governmental organisations may be legally responsible for wrongful actions when exercising their rights of eminent domain.

As the primary goal of the doctrine is to advance the public interest by enabling the construction of infrastructure, urban planning, and other initiatives that benefit society as a whole. Nevertheless, it is crucial to maintain a delicate equilibrium between safeguarding individual property rights and preventing any form of unfair damage. This section examines the principles of proportionality and reasonableness in evaluating governmental acts under eminent domain. It emphasises the importance of a nuanced tactic that takes into account both the well-being of the public and the interests of individuals.

Ø Case Studies

Here are some case studies which provides a comparative analysis with legal frameworks in other jurisdictions, highlighting similarities, differences, and best practices in addressing issues of compensation, liability, and public interest in context of the tortious liability and doctrine of eminent domain due to the fact that this research paper highlights the complexity of the interaction between the doctrine of eminent domain and tortious liability in the Indian state. It places an emphasis on the significance of a well-balanced legal framework that not only guarantees the preservation of property rights but also makes it easier for lawful government actions to be taken for the benefit of society as a whole. The purpose of this study is to contribute to a more in-depth knowledge of the obstacles and opportunities that are inherent in harmonising these two fundamental legal principles by conducting a critical evaluation of existing legislation, judicial judgements, and scholarly discourse. 

·       M.C. Mehta v. Union of India[xiii] (Case Concerning the Leak of Oil Gas):This particular incident featured the release of oleum gas from a factory in Delhi, which caused significant harm to the people who lived in the surrounding area. Using the theory of strict liability, the Indian courts came to the conclusion that the factory owners were responsible for the damages, so widening the scope of tortious liability in India.

An examination of the similarities between this case and analogous disasters that have occurred in other jurisdictions, such as the Bhopal Gas Tragedy in India or the Exxon Valdez oil spill in the United States, is made possible through comparative analysis. An examination might concentrate on the legal concepts that were utilised, the compensation that was granted, and the steps that were made to prevent such occurrences from occurring in the future.

·        Shanti star Builders vs. the State of Maharashtra[xiv] (litigating against the Indian Hotel and Restaurants Association)

When it comes to issues involving the acquisition of land through the use of the eminent domain concept, the Supreme Court of India addressed the issue of compensation and culpability in this particular example. An emphasis was placed by the court on the significance of providing landowners whose property is taken for public purposes with compensation that is both just and fair.

We see the comparative analysis see that we can draw parallels between this case and eminent domain cases that have been decided in other jurisdictions, such as the United States or countries in Europe, where the concepts of just compensation are applied in a manner that is comparable. It is possible that the research would shed insight on the various legal frameworks and practices that exist with relation to eminent domain and compensation.

·       Subhash Kumar Vs. State of Bihar[xv]

The violation of environmental rules and regulations by a government-owned firm that was engaged in mining activities was the subject of this landmark case. The corporation was found to be responsible for environmental damage that was caused by its operations by the Supreme Court of India, which emphasised the importance of protecting the public interest and the environment. An examination of the similarities and differences between this case and environmental tort cases in other jurisdictions, such as pollution claims in the United States or environmental protection cases in European countries, is made possible by the comparative analysis. In the examination, the legal criteria that were used, the remedies that were provided, and the role that the public interest played in mitigating environmental harm might all be investigated. These case studies offer insights into the manner in which Indian law addresses issues of tortious liability and eminent domain. Additionally, comparative research with legal frameworks in other countries assists in identifying similarities, variations, and best practices in the process of addressing these intricate legal issues. 


The legal landscape in India regarding the doctrine of eminent domain and its connection to tortious liability is intricate, as it seeks to strike a balance between individual rights and the state's requirements. The concept of eminent domain grants the government the authority to obtain privately owned property for the purpose of public use, while ensuring that the property owner receives fair compensation. This doctrine plays a vital role in the development of infrastructure and the implementation of public welfare initiatives.

Nevertheless, the utilisation of eminent domain may give rise to disagreements and clashes, especially concerning the assessment of fair compensation and the level of government intervention in private property rights. When such situations arise, the application of tort law principles, particularly those pertaining to negligence or intentional harm, becomes relevant. If the government's actions in exercising eminent domain result in harm or damage to individuals or their property that exceeds what is reasonably necessary for public use, it could be subject to liability under tort law.

In addition, the legal system in India offers opportunities for affected parties to seek redress and question the government's use of eminent domain through judicial review. The role of courts is crucial in ensuring the fair and just application of the doctrine, while also safeguarding the rights of individuals. Ultimately, the doctrine of eminent domain plays a crucial role in the operation of the state and the advancement of public welfare. However, it is imperative that this power is wielded responsibly and in alignment with the principles of equity and impartiality. The relationship between eminent domain and tortious liability highlights the importance of maintaining a careful equilibrium between the public interest and the safeguarding of individual rights within the Indian legal system.


[i] Robert Kratovil & Frank J. Harrison, “Eminent Domain: Policy & Concept”, Vol. 42, No. 4, published October 1954, pp 596-652, last accessed April 2024

[ii] Debjani Bhattacharya, JSTOR, “History of eminent domain in colonial thought and legal Practice” Vol. 50, No.50, pp.45-53,   published December 12, 2015, last accessed April 2024

[iii] Zamindari Abolition & Land Reforms Act,1950

[iv] Schedule 7, List III(Concurrent), Indian Constitution, 1950

[v] Article 31 clause (2), Indian Constitution, 1950

[vi] Defacto law, Admin, “Doctrine of eminent domain”, published Feb, 2024

[vii] Jesse Saginor & John F. McDonald, “Eminent Domain: A review of the Issues”, Vol.17, No. 1 published 2009, pp 3-43, last accessed April 2024

[viii] AIR (2008) 9 SCC 552

[ix] Article 300-A, The Constitution of India, 1950

[x] AIR 1986 SCR(1) 707

[xi] E. Donald Elliott, “The Evolutionary Tradition in Jurisprudence”, Vol.85, No. 1, published (Jan 1985), published by Columbia Law Review Association, Inc, last accessed April 2024

[xii] Prof. Kahkashan Y. Danyal, Manupatra, “Land Acquisition in India- Past and Present”, published 2016, last accessed April 2024

[xiii]AIR 1986 SCR (1) 312

[xiv] AIR 1996 SCC (1) 233

[xv] AIR 1991 SCR (1)


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