1894 law should immediately make way for fair enactment, says Supreme Court
Observing that the 1894 Act has become outdated as it does not provide for rehabilitation of persons displaced from their land, although their livelihood is affected by compulsory acquisition, a Bench of the Supreme Court has called for replacement of the law without delay.
Writing the judgment, Justice R.M. Lodha said all concerned felt that the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act “do not adequately protect the interest of owners/persons interested in the land. For years, the acquired land remains unused. To say the least, the Act has become outdated and needs to be replaced at the earliest with fair, reasonable and rational enactment in tune with the constitutional provisions, particularly, Article 300A. We expect the lawmaking process for a comprehensive enactment with regard to acquisition of land being completed without any unnecessary delay.”
The Bench, which included Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar, said, “The Act was enacted in 1894 for acquisition of land needed for public purposes and for companies and for determining the amount of compensation.” It was amended in 1919, 1921, 1923, 1933, 1962, 1967 and 1984, the last major amendments having been made by the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Act, 1984.
In the instant case, on the requisition of the (then) Cholan Roadways Corporation, Kumbakonam, for making land available for expansion of its depot, particularly for a workshop at Chidambaram, the Tamil Nadu government acquired 1.45 acres of land.
Aggrieved, Ramji Veerji Patel and others challenged the acquisition notification but a single judge and a Division Bench of the Madras High Court upheld it.
Dismissing their appeal against this judgment, the Supreme Court rejected the contention that alternative land was available for depot expansion and that the government had not considered this aspect. “In judicial review, it is not open to examine the aspect of suitability as a court of appeal and substitute its opinion,” the Bench said. The government had explained that the land was suitable for the workshop as it was adjacent to the existing depot.
On the contention by senior counsel Pallav Sishodia that the appellants were affected by the compulsory acquisition and that the court must exercise its jurisdiction under Article 142 (to render complete justice), the Bench said “the litigation has traversed up to this court and taken about 22 years.”
The Bench said: “The public purpose has been stalled for more than two decades… In the name of justice to the appellants, under Article 142 nothing should be done that would result in frustrating the acquisition of land which, as submitted by State counsel B. Balaji, has been completed long ago by following the procedure under the LA Act and after giving full opportunity to the appellants.”
The Bench agreed with the State counsel that there was no illegality in the acquisition.