CJI questions inerrancy of SC land acquisition order

Verdict by Constitution Bench led by former colleague Justice Arun Mishra has left things “unsaid”, he says

September 28, 2020 08:55 pm | Updated 08:55 pm IST - NEW DELHI

A view of the Supreme Court building in New Delhi. File

A view of the Supreme Court building in New Delhi. File

Chief Justice of India (CJI) Sharad A. Bobde on Monday questioned the infallibility of a land acquisition judgment delivered by a Constitution Bench led by his former colleague, Justice Arun Mishra, saying the verdict had left things “unsaid”.

The CJI, heading a three-judge Bench, said the order gifted the government “laxity” in several aspects, which even Parliament did not bother to provide under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act of 2013.

For one, the verdict did not specify for how long the government could possess a land acquired without paying compensation. ‘When does the acquisition lapse?’ The verdict made it look as if the acquisition did not lapse “forever”, the CJI said.

“The government takes possession [of a property] but has not paid compensation. The acquisition does not lapse. But for how long will the acquisition not lapse? Five years is the time given under the parliamentary law... but if the compensation is not paid, then how long will the acquisition continue? Forever?” he stated.

“The judgment has given the government laxity, which Parliament did not want the government to have. Parliament had said the government cannot do this, the law said the compensation should not be kept pending... the government cannot just take over land and not pay compensation”, the CJI voiced the court’s apprehensions.

His expressions of doubt about the March judgment came as soon as Solicitor General Tushar Mehta pointed out that about 600 cases were pending in the Court and in various High Courts. Mr. Mehta had suggested these cases may now be dealt with in accordance with the law laid down by the Constitution Bench judgment.

‘Give us two weeks’

But the CJI said the judges needed some more time to study the verdict. “There are some things which we want to talk about. We will talk among ourselves... Give us two weeks... We are not talking about one individual case. We are talking about the judgment of a five-judge Bench”, he addressed Mr. Mehta.

The 319-page judgment of the Constitution Bench was interpreting Section 24 (2) of the 2013 Act, which dealt with payment of compensation for land acquired by the government. It said acquisition would not lapse as long as the government earmarked the compensation money by paying it into the Treasury. In short, the money need not actually reach the farmer or landowner. Acquisition would also not lapse just because the farmer refused the compensation and claimed higher.

Similarly, there was no lapse in acquisition if the compensation had been paid but possession not taken of the land.

The judgment had declared that acquisition would only lapse if the government had neither taken possession nor paid the compensation due to the landowner for five or more years prior to January 1, 2014.

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