A Division Bench of the Supreme Court has held that permitting the State to assert indefinite right upon one’s property, without any legal sanction is lawlessness.
Brief facts of the case
The Central Government under the powers of Requisition and Acquisition of Immovable Properties Act, 1952 (“Requisitioning Act”) and Defence of India Act, 1962 overtook the Appellants’ land spanning over 2 acres.
In 1972, Appellants applied for enhancement of the compensation fixed for the lands in the suit. As required by Section 8 of the Requisitioning Act, the dispute was referred to an arbitrator. The Arbitrator pronounced an Award which determined compensation as 6% per annum on the capital value of the land.
The Respondent asserted that it had acquired at least some parts of the suit lands. These were examined by the High Court on two occasions, and, in arbitration proceedings under the Requisitioning Act, on three occasions. Each time, the factual findings went against the Union. The Union’s occupation of the lands ceased to be lawful, with the lapse of the Requisitioning Act, in 1987. Yet, it has implacably refused to hand back possession, each time asserting that it has some manner of rights over it.
The Karnataka High Court noticed that the Union’s claim had no merits (in both its appeal, which was dismissed, as well as in the impugned judgment, disposing of the writ petition). Nevertheless, it refused to issue any direction for the release of the suit lands. The rationale given was that the adjoining areas had been acquired and were used by the Union for defense purposes. The High Court also impugned judgment granted indefinite time to the Union to take steps to acquire the suit lands. The Union has not chosen to do so these last 12 years.
Hence, this appeal.
With the 1984 amendments to the Land Acquisition Act, a period of 2 years was statutorily granted by Parliament to complete the acquisition, i.e. to issue the award.
Since a valid award was never made, the Union had to vacate the suit property. The possession was not justified nor authorized by law.
The Supreme Court in State of Haryana v. Mukesh Kumar has held that the property right is not only constitutional or statutory but a human right. The deprivation of possession of one’s property without law was untenable.
The determination of compensation was up to the period ending in 2000, i.e. 20 years ago. In the meanwhile, the value of the property, as well the value of compensation had risen as the suit lands had great commercial potential.
The High Court has correctly denied the claim to release of lands. It was a dispute which had to be decided by the civil court. The findings to extent of ownership were ambiguous and the courts committed errors in ignoring that the suit lands were acquired through notifications in 1941.
The properties were requisitioned validly, and those orders were never questioned by Appellants or the Union, in any proceedings. Hence, the lands were not unlawfully occupied.
The Bench noted that the legal effect of requisitioning immovable property is that temporarily- i.e. for the period the requisition order is in operation, the owner loses her possessory rights, even though the title remains undisturbed.
Since the deprivation of possession is through the authority of law, in keeping with the fair procedure, the law (in this case, the Requisitioning Act) provides for payment of compensation under predetermined principles. Even then, the taking of property cannot result in deprivation of title altogether, unless another process for acquiring it is initiated. The Bench further examined its previous judgments and stated that the right to property is not a fundamental right protected under Part III of the Constitution of India, but it remains a valuable constitutional right.
The law (of development or town planning, of any other such enactment) should be explicit about the nature and effect of the deprivation while expressing the intention to do so. It is, therefore, no longer open to the State to claim that the law or the constitution can be ignored or complied with at its convenience.
The essence of rule of law protects the right to property. The evolving jurisprudence of this court also underlines that it is a valuable right ensuring guaranteed freedoms and economic liberty. The phrasing of Article 300-A is determinative and its resemblance with Articles 21 and 265 cannot be overlooked. They in effect, are a guarantee of the supremacy of the rule of law, no less. To permit the state: whether the Union or any state government to assert that it has an indefinite or overriding right to continue occupying one’s property (bereft of lawful sanction)– whatever be the pretext, is no less than condoning lawlessness. The courts’ role is to act as the guarantor and jealous protector of the people’s liberties: be they assured through the freedoms, and the right to equality and religious or cultural rights under Part III, or the right against deprivation, in any form, through any process other than law.
The Bench held that the High Court has erred in refusing compensation to the Appellants. It ordered the Respondent Union to hand back the possession of the suit lands to the Appellants within 3 months. It further imposed Rs. 75,000 as costs on the Respondents.
Click here to view the judgment in BK Ravichandra v. Union of India.
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