Firstpost, July 3 2015, New Delhi: The consequence for delay in awarding compensation in land acquisition by the governments has to be borne by the “errant state” and not the “innocent land owners”, the Supreme Court said on Friday.
“While we presently refrain from passing any orders or direction pertaining to or interfering with the possession of the Government over the subject land, the acquisition dated November 18, 1987 is set aside for non-compliance with the provisions of Section 11A of the LA Act.Terming the delay in paying compensation as an act of “carelessness and callousness” by the state, a bench of justices Vikramjit Sen and Abhay Manohar Sapre set aside the land acquired in Bihar’s Khagaria district way back in 1987 for construction of government quarters by invoking urgency clause of the Land Acquisition Act.
“As all the subsequent Notifications by the Respondent State having lapsed, the Respondent State is directed to issue a fresh Section 4 Notification within six weeks from today. The Respondent State is restrained from contending that the land is no longer required by it or that it should revert to the Appellants. The Appeal is allowed in these terms,” the bench said.
Referring to the state of affairs, it said “even equity demands that the party bearing the consequence of the delay in the award ought not to be the innocent landowner, but the errant State.”
The land owners were denied “just and fair compensation” for their land in proceedings which commenced in 1987, despite the directions of the High Court passed as early as in 1988 to pass an award within four months, it said.
The bench also said that the urgency clause of the Act cannot be interpreted in such a way that the landowners will have no protection, even if they are not paid full compensation for their land for decades.
It said Bihar now “vainly essays to take unfair and ill-founded advantage of decisions and opinions of this Court to contend that the subject acquisition stands completed in all respects, thereby endeavouring, illegally in our considered opinion, to avoid performance of their statutory obligations of computing compensation and then paying it.”
“Once land has vested in the State, the question of re-vesting its possession in the erstwhile landowners is no longer available as an option to the State,” the apex court further said.
The court was deciding the question as to whether the Land Acquisition Act required an award to be passed even in respect of lands expropriated by the state pursuant to the exercise of special powers in cases of urgency clause.
“We must not forget that even though ownership of property has ceased to be conceived of as a Fundamental Right, it continues to receive constitutional protection.
“It is also a regrettable reality that Governments are increasingly relying on rulings of this Court to the effect that even if the public purpose providing the predication for the compulsory acquisition of a citizen’s land has proved to be an illusion or misconception, another purpose can conveniently be discovered or devised by the State for retention by it of the expropriated land,” it said.
“It has become alarmingly commonplace for lands to be expropriated under the banner of urgency or even under the normal procedure, only to be followed by a withdrawal or retraction from this exercise enabling a favoured few to harvest the ill-begotten windfall,” it said.