SC takes up paying fair compensation in acquiring land

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New Delhi– The Supreme Court on Tuesday commenced hearing on the correctness of the payment of compensation to the landowners whose land has been acquired as well as when the award granting compensation would come into effect.

As the five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi took up the matter, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the question to be adjudicated by the court include the import and meaning of word “pay” under Section 24(2) of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.

He said that the question to be addressed by the constitution bench, which also includes Justice N.V. Ramana, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice Deepak Gupta and Justice Sanjiv Khanna, is whether “pay” under Section 24(2) necessarily implies depositing in the account of the beneficiary whose land has been acquired.

The matter was last heard by the bench of then Chief Justice Dipak Misra (since retired), Justice A.K. Sikri (now retired), Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice Ashok Bhushan on March 6, 2018.

The court will also examine whether the duration of five years after which the award would cease to survive would include time consumed in the courts on account of legal proceedings or excluded it.

The matter was referred to the Constitution bench following conflicting judgments by two benchs of the top court – each bench with three judges.

The three-judge bench headed by then Chief Justice R.M. Lodha had, in 2014, held that if the compensation for acquiring land under Land Acquisition Act, 1894, has not been paid to the landowner or deposited with the competent court and the same was retained in the government treasury, then it (land acquisition) would be treated as having lapsed and would be covered under the new 2013 land acquisition law entitling landowners a higher compensation.

“The deposit of a compensation amount in the government treasury is of no avail and cannot be held to be equivalent to compensation paid to the landowners/persons interested,” Chief Justice Lodha, along with Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Kurian Joseph, had said.

But this was overruled by a majority of a three-judge bench comprising Justice Arun Mishra, Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel and Justice Mohan M. Shantanagoudar on February 8, 2018. Justice Shantanagoudar dissented.

The February 2018 verdict had held that 2014 judgment was passed without taking into account the provisions of the 2013 law on land acquisition.

Subsequently the matter was referred to the then Chief Justice Misra by two separate two-judge benches headed by Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Goel (since retired and now NGT Chairman) respectively after another three-judge bench taking exception to February 8, 2018, judgement directed all the High Courts not to proceed with the hearing of land acquisition matters pending before them.

The three judge bench headed by Justice Lokur, by its February 22, 2018 order, had urged the other top court’s smaller bench (of the strength of two judges each) hearing land acquisition matters to defer the hearing.

Justice Lokur’s bench had objected to how a three-judge bench could over-rule the judgement passed by another bench of same strength. (IANS)

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