State not doing charity by paying compensation for acquisition of land: SC

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SC bench said depriving a citizen of his constitutional right to use the land for 20 years and then showing graciousness by paying the compensation and beating drums that the State has been gracious is unacceptable 

The Supreme Court has said the that State does not do any charity by paying compensation to citizens for acquisition of land, as it emphasised the right to property is no more a fundamental right, but still it is recognised as a constitutional right under Article 300A of the Constitution. 

"Depriving a citizen of his constitutional right to use the land for 20 years and then showing graciousness by paying the compensation and beating drums that the State has been gracious, in our view, is unacceptable," a bench of Justices B R Gavai and Sandeep Mehta said.

The court was dealing with a contempt proceedings against the Ghaziabad Development Authority.

"We were also of the prima facie view that the award was passed on December 30, 2023 after the contempt notice was issued by this Court on December 8, 2023," the bench said.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi for respondent officer of the authority argued that the petitioners were interested in getting compensation as per the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 which came into force w.e.f. January 01, 2014, and the relief sought for has been granted as per the award of December 30, 2023.

Initially the GDA was under an erroneous belief that the land was a residential land and as such the compensation was determined to the tune of Rs 407 crores. It was, however, subsequently realised that the land was not a residential land but was agricultural in nature and, therefore, GDA was in a position to pay the compensation, the counsel said.

He asked the court to discharge the respondents as they had not violated any order of this court and hence they deserve to be discharged from the contempt notice.

The counsel also stated that had the land been acquired in the year 2004, the petitioners would have got compensation as per the old Act. 

Senior advocate Dama Sheshadri Naidu, representing the petitioners said that the award allegedly passed by the authorities on December 30, 2023 is nothing but an eyewash and is in total disregard to the statement made before this court. He said that neither was any notice was given to the petitioners before the issuance of the award nor were the mandatory provisions of the Act of 2013 followed and thus, the award is nothing but a nullity in the eyes of law.

The bench said, "Though, prima facie, we are not impressed with the submission of Rohatgi that this is all a comedy of errors, but since we are only with the contempt petition, in such jurisdiction, the limited enquiry that would be permissible is to find out whether the respondents had deliberately or willfully acted in such a manner which would amount to the disobedience of the orders passed by this court."

Technically, though respondent no one and its authorities cannot be held to have acted in a manner which could be said to be committing contempt of the court, there appears to be something more in the matter that meets the eye, the bench said.

"From 2017, it required a period of almost seven years for the offices of the GDA to wake up from their deep slumber and realise that the land was not a residential land but was an agricultural land," the bench said.

The bench also said the argument on behalf of the State or its instrumentalities after holding the land of a citizen for a period of 20 years and then taking a plea that the land owners are getting benefited, is something unpalatable. 

"The state is not doing charity by paying compensation to the citizen for acquisition of land," the bench said.

The court, however, said the real question that the competent authorities will have to consider as to whether the land which is required for extension of Indirapuram Residential Scheme in the area of Ghaziabad would be considered as an agricultural land or not.

The bench held technically there is no contempt in the matter, it, however, left all questions open to be decided by the competent authorities at the appropriate stage.

Rohatgi also said the petitioners would be entitled to take out proceedings if they are aggrieved by the adequacy of the compensation.

"We only observe that taking into consideration that the land of the petitioners was under the sword of acquisition for almost two decades and that some part of the delay is also attributable to the Court inasmuch as the proceedings were pending for last so many years, the authorities or the Court, before whom the proceedings post award would be initiated, would take up the matter and decide the same expeditiously," the bench said.

The court also said if any proceedings are initiated by the petitioners either challenging the award or adequacy of the compensation, the same shall be decided within a period of six months from the date of the institution.

"If the GDA or its officers make an attempt to prolong the proceedings, the Court or the authorities would be free to draw an adverse inference and decide the proceedings within the period," the bench said.