Decided on May 11,2020

Sehdev Singh Appellant


- (1.)The controversy in the present batch of 30 writ petitions revolves around the applicability of the deemed fiction of lapsing of the acquisition proceedings in view of Section 24(2) of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (hereinafter to be referred as the Act of 2013). All these writ petitions were filed seeking lapsing of the acquisition proceedings undertaken in the Land Acquisition Act 1894 (hereinafter to be referred as the Act of 1894) in their respective cases either owing to the alleged physical possession not been taken or the compensation neither been paid nor deposited, or both, wherein the award has been announced prior to 5 years or more from the date of commencement of the Act of 2013 w.e.f. 01.01.2014.
(2.)Notably, Land Acquisition Act, 1894 remained the leading law in the country governing acquisition of land by the State (s) for over a century, and it would be no gainsaying that the Act of 1894 entails an era of compulsory acquisition, and several times the acquisition carried therein have went through the judicial scrutiny either on the ground of discrimination or on the ground of non-adherence to the statutory provisions, besides various other virtues and vices. During this era, the acquisition proceedings came to be challenged, which were upheld by this Court as well as Hon'ble Supreme Court. Admittedly, as far as taking possession of the acquired land under the Act of 1894 is concerned, there was no word called 'physical' and the drawing of 'panchnama' in the form of rapat roznamcha was considered to be a valid and legal mode of taking possession. Section 48 of the Act of 1894 granted the liberty to the State to withdraw from the acquisition either in part or whole, however with the rider that possession had not been taken. There is no dispute about the fact that even though the acquisition had been upheld and the rapat roznamchas also been drawn, instances came to the light wherein in some cases, the revenue record was not updated or some of the landowners kept on sitting on the land acquired whose possession had already been taken and also, the acquisition stood upheld. Many authoritative judicial pronouncements saw the light of the day to hold that once the possession of acquired land had been taken the land acquired vest in the State and once vested it cannot be divested or returned to the landowner. As far as the payment of compensation for the acquired land is concerned, the consequences of nonpayment before taking possession were prescribed in section 34 of the Act of 1894. Merely the factum of non-payment or non deposit in the Reference Court was never resulting into invalidating the acquisition. The Act of 1894 also provided for the lapse of acquisition proceedings, however, limiting it to on account of failure of the government authorities to act within the limitation provided.
(3.)After having seen the era of compulsory acquisition for good 120 years, the Parliament in its wisdom, in order to overcome the shortcomings that the Act of 1894 proffered, replaced it by Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. Besides, making revolutionary changes in the Act with respect to the matters related to compensation, inclusion of the concept of social impact assessment, providing statutory recognition to rehabilitation and resettlement etc., a special provision in the form of section 24 was introduced in respect of cases of acquisition of land initiated/culminated under the Act of 1894. This comprises of three parts, firstly where the acquisition process had been initiated by way of issuance of notification under Section 4 of the Act of 1894 prior to coming into effect of Act of 2013 on 01.01.2014, i.e. Section 24(1)(a) wherein it has been provided that in such scenario, the compensation for the land acquired will have to be assessed under the provisions of the Act of 2013. Secondly, section 24(1)(b) which is in respect of those cases wherein the award under section 11 of 1894 Act had been announced prior to coming into effect of the new Act. It provides that all further proceedings will continue under the 1894 act only, as if the said Act was never repealed.

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