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The Evolution of the Right to Property in India: From a Law and Development Perspective


Conference Hall, Training Centre, NLSIU


Wednesday, April 27, 2022, 3:00 pm

This faculty seminar is being held on April 27, 2022 at 4.30 PM.


Ms. Rashmi Venkatesan, Assistant Professor of Law, NLSIU


Property Rights are contentious in any jurisdiction. But the right to property in India, adopted as a fundamental right in Article 31 of the Constitution of the India, 1950 (“Article”), has had a particularly tumultuous legal and political history. It holds the distinction of being the second most debated Article in the Constituent Assembly, the most amended provision of the Constitution and the only fundamental right to ever be deleted. The history of the Article is commonly understood as arising from an ideological institutional conflict between a Parliament in pursuit of socialism and a judiciary safeguarding individual freedoms. However, looking at the Article and its initial amendments from a “law and development” perspective provides a critique of the current narrative of “conflict” and offers an alternative interpretation of the history of Article 31. The paper argues that rather than arising from the pursuit of either authoritarian socialist planning or an egalitarian social revolution, the travails of the Article came in the context of India’s quest for economic modernity through a process of “passive revolution”. The powers of eminent domain reinforced in the Article empowered the state to modernise economic relations in industry and agriculture by restructuring a semi-feudal pre-capitalist property rights regime established during colonialism along productive capitalist lines. In this process, the Article helped to consolidate the powers of the developmental state in the domain of economic policy; forged the relationship between state, market and the individual; and helped shape the regime of private property rights in India. Understanding the evolution of the fundamental right to property in India therefore, not only tells a key part of India’s development story but also contributes to the “law and development” literature by assimilating diverse historical experiences within its framework, which, as critics have long argued, tends to have a strong Eurocentric bias.