‘Cannot Misuse Law To Reclaim Land Using Case Delay As Excuse’
In a landmark judgment that will aid public authorities in ensuring land acquisition for public purposes is not thwarted by vexatious litigation, the Supreme Court has held that land acquisition by a government agency could not be quashed on account of delay on the part of owners in accepting compensation within five years due to reasons such as lingering court cases.
A bench of Justices Arun Mishra, A K Goel and M M Shantanagoudar said land owners should not be allowed to take the benefit of Section 24(2) of the Land Acquisition Act to reclaim land on the ground that they were not paid compensation within the stipulated time as payment was delayed because of litigation.
The Section has been contentious as it affected plans of governments to develop public infrastructure as the land could at some stage be returned to the owners under a clause relating to the payment of compensation within five years. With pendency of land cases tending to be long, those challenging the award could get the land back.
Now, the court has ruled that if an award is unconditionally tendered, the legal obligation would be seen to have been discharged. Section 24(2) says that in case of land acquisition proceedings initiated under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, where an award has been made five years or more prior to the commencement of the 2013 Act but physical possession of the land has not happened or compensation not been paid, the proceedings shall be deemed to have lapsed. The appropriate government, if it so chose, would have to initiate proceedings of such land acquisition afresh.
Explaining the provision, the bench said, “Section 24(2) does not intend to cover the period spent during litigation and when the authorities have been disabled to act under it due to the final or interim order of a court or otherwise, such period has to be excluded from the period of five years as provided in the section.
Once the amount of compensation has been unconditionally tendered and it is refused, that would amount to payment and the obligation under the Act stands discharged and that amounts to discharge of obligation of payment under section 24(2) of the Act of 2013 also, and it is not open to the person who has refused to accept compensation to urge that since it has not been deposited in court, acquisition has lapsed. Claimants/land owners after refusal cannot take advantage of their own wrong and seek protection under the provisions of Section 24(2).”
The court passed the order on a petition filed by Indore Development Authority (IDA) challenging a high court order which had declared land acquired by it as lapsed after the owners refused to accept compensation within five years. The court accepted the contention of IDA’s counsel Sanjay Kapur who said the authority’s obligation to pay the amount was discharged when it offered money to land owners.