Gujarat High Court dismisses PIL and advises Adivasi Villagers to file Independent Petitions for claiming their Rights

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In the case of Maheshbhai Revabhai Pandya v. State of Gujarat R/WP(PIL)/130/2019, four petitions were combined to form a PIL for the protection of poor, downtrodden and the Scheduled Tribes that were being evicted from their agricultural lands and residence in District Narmada.

According to the petitioners, these are Adivasi villagers residing in the six villages of Kevadia, Vaghadiya, Navagam, Limbdi, Kothi and Gora.

The Division Bench of the Gujarat High Court consisting of the Honourable Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice Ashutosh J. Shastri, on 1 May 2020, dismissed the Writ Petition because the said petition as a Public Interest Litigation was not maintainable due to the lack of interest of the third party filing the said petition in the disputed land.

The court held that the rights claimed by the residents of these villages were individual and hence they would probably succeed in their cause if claimed independently and individually by the residents.

As per the facts of the case, land acquisition proceedings had started in 1961-62 to construct a colony under the Narmada River Project Scheme and also for the construction of canal and road under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894. Under the same Act, awards were passed ordering payment of compensation to the ancestors (all either deceased or very old as of now) of the current residents but the petitioners have claimed that the actual payment of compensation was never paid to the respective landowners.

The land which was acquired were never used for the purpose for which it was acquired and nor was its possession ever taken, hence the petitioners argued that the respondents cannot make use of the legal presumption enshrined under Section 16 of the Land Acquisition Act 1894 in favour of the acquiring body.

The respondents in their affidavit-in-reply have claimed that this petition is not maintainable as the petitioners have no locus standi.

After considering the submissions made by the advocates of the petitioners and the respondents and also considering the evidence on record, the court has observed in the narration of facts stated in the petition and the pleadings on record, the affidavit-in­reply as well as the additional affidavit, it cannot be denied that there are disputed questions of fact in this case. Although, as per the observation made by the court, it was a fact that the land had been acquired and that awards had been passed in favour of the landowners, insofar as receiving the compensation by the ancestors of the present residents is concerned, the petitioners have been not very specific and not very committal, but evasive.

Issues before the Court

The main issue before the Court, in this case, was the maintainability of the writ petition as Public Interest Litigation.

Arguments of the Petitioner

It was submitted on behalf of the petitioners that since it was in the larger public injury of the people, affecting a large number of persons about 1800 belonging to 295 different families, who belong to Scheduled Tribe and are poor and downtrodden as well as Socially and Educationally Backward, who find themselves inept and helpless in approaching the Court, as such the present petitioners have taken up their cause and that is how the present petition has been filed as Public Interest Litigation.

It was prayed before the court to not let the petition be thrown out on the said ground of preliminary objection. The advocate has referred to the relevant provisions of the High Court of Gujarat (Practice and Procedure for Public Interest Litigation) Rules, 2010 and further placed reliance upon several judgments of the Supreme Court, the Gujarat High Court and other High Courts.

Arguments of the Respondent

It was submitted that a Public Interest Litigation in respect of the acquisition of land at the instance of a third person would not be maintainable as the legal right in respect of the land is that of the landowner and such landowner alone would have a right to assert about the violation of any rights conferred under Article­300A of the Constitution or any of the provisions of the 1894 Act or the 2013 Act. Hence, the petitioners have no locus standi to maintain this petition.

Order of the High Court

The Gujarat High Court held that the rights claimed under this petition are individual rights which the present residents have to claim independently and individually. The petitioners filing this PIL are a third party not having any interest in the land whatsoever and hence, this petition cannot be entertained by the court as the PIL is not maintainable.

In the eyes of this court, the information based on which the petitioners have filed the petition on behalf of the villagers alleging non-payment of compensation is without any basis and inadmissible.

The court was of the view that if the petitions were filed individually, there was a chance for the residents to succeed in establishing and passing the Twin Test laid down in the recent judgement delivered by the Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court in the case of Indore Development Authority vs. Manoharlal and ors. on 6 March 2020.

Hence, the petition was dismissed but the Court said that the rights of the individual residents to claim the benefit of Section­24(2) of the 2013 Act would not be affected by the judgement.

Mr NM Kapadia was the Advocate representing the petitioners and Mr. Kamal Trivedi, the Advocate General along with Ms. Manisha Lavkumar Shah, the Government Pleader assisted by Mr. JK Shah, the Assistant Government Pleader on behalf of the State representing the respondents.


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