Date: 21 October, 2020
by Divya Menon, UILS, Panjab University
CASE NUMBER: SLP © 9036-9038/2016 [Diary No. 8700/2016]
DECIDED ON: 6 March, 2020
BENCH: Justice S Ravindra Bhat, Justice M.R. Shah, Justice Vineet Saran,Justice Indira Banerjee, Justice Arun Mishra
The interpretation of Section 24 of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (herein referred as Section 24 of Land Acquisition Act,2013)
TIMELINE OF FACTS
In January 2014, the Supreme Court by a 3 judge Bench in Pune Municipal Corp.& Anr vs Harakchand were of the view that for the purposes of Section 24(2), the compensation shall be regarded as “paid” if the compensation has been offered to the person interested and such compensation has been deposited in the court. If such compensation has not been “paid” five years or more prior to the commencement of this Act 2103, then such proceedings shall be lapsed as under Section 24(2). It was categorically clarified that money in the government treasury will not be treated as a payment to a landowner.
On 8th February 2018, another 3 judge Bench of the Supreme Court in Indore Development Authority vs Shailendra (deceased) overruled the 2014 decision which created a controversy. By a 2:1 majority, the Court held that land acquisitions could not lapse due to a land-owner's refusal to accept compensation within 5 years. It held that once compensation has been tendered, but the person refuses to accept it, this amounts to a discharge of obligation under section 31(1) of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.
Owing to such controversies, the Apex Court formed a Constitutional Bench on 26th February 2018 to examine the decisions dealing with lapsing land acquisition due to compensation disputes. Indore Development Authority case was then listed before a 5-Judge Bench.
The judgement primarily revolved around the word “paid” as mentioned in Section 24 of the 2013 Act which deals with the validity of land acquisition proceedings initiated under the now repealed Land Acquisition Act, 1894.
Section 24 envisages two scenarios wherein proceedings initiated under the 1894 Act would be deemed to have lapsed.
The Bench overturned the 2014 Pune Municipal Corporation and held that land acquisition proceedings cannot lapse merely due to a failure to pay compensation to landowners and added that payment does not require the State to deposit money in a landowner's account - tendering compensation is sufficient.
The Court also deliberated on the word ‘or’ used in 24(2) and unanimously said that the word has to be read as ‘nor’ or as ‘and’. The deemed lapse of land acquisition proceedings under Section 24(2) of the Act of 2013 takes place where due to inaction of authorities for five years or more prior to commencement of the said Act, the possession of land has not been taken nor compensation has been paid.
Though the timeline of events leading to this case was questioned in various aspects, including the question of per incuriam, doctrine of prospective ruling and much more. This case typically attracted flak due to the non-recusal of Justice Arun Mishra from the Bench.
Justice Arun Mishra who was the author of the Three-Judge Bench in the February 2018 IDA judgement and his presence in the Constitutional Bench created doubts over the fair and impartial decision in IDA 2020. This also highlighted the issues with the ‘Master of the roster’ system.