‘Statutory authorities are bound to not only pay adequate compensation but also rehabilitate displaced persons’

The Supreme Court has expressed serious concern at the inordinate delay in payment of compensation to farmers for land, holding that it amounts to deprivation of livelihood, which is a violation of Article 21 (right to life) of the Constitution. “Even under valid acquisition proceedings, there is a legal obligation on the part of the authorities to complete the proceedings at the earliest and to make payment of requisite compensation. The appeals, etc, are required to be decided expeditiously for the sole reason that if a person is not paid compensation in time, he will be unable to purchase any land or other immovable property, said a Bench of Justices B.S. Chauhan and J.S. Khehar.

Writing the judgment, Justice Chauhan said: “It is not permissible for any welfare state to uproot a person and deprive him of his fundamental/constitutional/human rights under the garb of industrial development. A welfare state governed by the rule of law cannot arrogate to itself a status beyond one that is provided by the Constitution. Statutory authorities are not only bound to pay adequate compensation but there is also a legal obligation upon them to rehabilitate such persons. The non-fulfilment of their obligations would tantamount to forcing the uprooted persons to become vagabonds or to indulge in anti-national activities as such sentiments would be born in them on account of ill-treatment without its [the state] resorting to any procedure prescribed by law, without the court realising that the enrichment of a welfare state or of its instrumentalities, at the cost of poor farmers, is not permissible, particularly when done at the behest of the state itself.”

In the instant case, “the appellant farmers [in Maharashtra] belonged to a class which did not have any other vocation or any business/calling to fall back upon for earning their livelihood. Depriving them of their immovable properties was a clear violation of Article 21. The appellants have been deprived of their legitimate dues for about half a century. In such a fact situation, we fail to understand for which class of citizens the Constitution provides guarantees and rights in this regard and what is the exact percentage of the citizens of this country to whom constitutional/statutory benefits are accorded in accordance with the law. The appellants have been seriously discriminated against qua other persons, whose land was also acquired. Some of them were given the benefits of acquisition, including compensation in 1966. This kind of discrimination not only breeds corruption but also disrespect for governance as it leads to frustration and, to a certain extent, forces persons to take the law into their own hands.”

The Bench said: “The appellants were deprived of their immovable property in 1964, when Article 31 was still intact and the right to property was part of fundamental rights under Article 19. It is pertinent to note that even after the right to property ceased to be a fundamental right, taking possession of or acquiring the property of a citizen was, most certainly, tantamount to deprivation and such deprivation can take place only in accordance with the “law,” as the said word has specifically been used in Article 300-A. Such deprivation can be [done] only by resorting to a procedure prescribed by a statute. The same cannot be done by way of an executive fiat or order or administration caprice.”

The Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation sought to acquire the lands of Tukaram Kana Joshi and others without fully complying with the formalities. They were unable to get any compensation or even, for that matter, any other land. The Bombay High Court did not provide them any relief either.

Disposing of their appeals, the Supreme Court directed the authorities to complete the acquisition proceedings expeditiously, declare the compensation/award at current market value and make payments to the claimants/persons interested immediately.

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