He becomes persona non grata once land vests in state: Supreme Court

Once land is acquired for a public purpose through a valid acquisition and vested in the state, the claimants are not entitled to restoration of possession on the ground that either the original public purpose has ceased to be in operation or that the land has been put to some other use, the Supreme Court has held.

A Bench consisting of Justices P. Sathasivam and B.S. Chauhan said: “Once the land is acquired, it vests in the state free from all encumbrances. It is not the concern of the owner how his land is used and whether the land is being used for the purpose for which it was acquired or for any other purpose. He becomes persona non grata once the land vests in the state. He has only a right to get compensation for the same. The person interested cannot claim the right of restoration of land on any ground whatsoever.”

Original acquisition

Writing the judgment, Justice Chauhan said: “Once the original acquisition is valid and the title has vested in the municipality or the government, how it uses the excess land is no concern of the original owner and cannot be the basis for invalidating the acquisition. There is no principle of law by which a valid, compulsory acquisition stands voided because long after the requiring authority diverts it to a public purpose other than the one stated in the declaration.” 

In the instant case, Sulochana Chandrakant challenged a Bombay High Court judgment, which allowed a petition filed by the Pune Municipal Transport questioning a government order allowing an application from her that her land be restored to her as the purpose of acquisition for construction of staff quarters was changed, and instead a bus depot was built.

 Dismissing her appeal, the Bench said the acquisition was completed in 1979 but the government passed the order on her application in 1998, viz. 19 years after the acquisition was complete.    

The Bench noted that though the law did not fix any time limit for disposal of a revision petition, it did not mean that the legislature intended leaving the orders passed under the Act open to variation for an indefinite period inasmuch as it would have the effect of rendering the title of the holders/allottees permanently precarious and in perpetual uncertainty. 

Revisional powers

The Bench held that the revisional powers of the government could not be used arbitrarily at a belated stage once the land was declared surplus under the Urban Land Ceiling Act. “The land once vested in the State cannot be divested. Once the land is vested in the state, it has a right to change the user.”

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