Day 6: 19 November 2019

In the sixth day of oral arguments in the matter, the Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta (SG), concluded his submissions on the scope of Section 24 of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (hereafter 'Land Acquisition Act'). As may be recalled, in the last hearing on 7 November, the SG had emphasized how ‘payment’ for the purpose of S.24 is complete as long as the government unconditionally makes a compensation offer. Thus, irrespective of whether or not the land owners accept it, the SG had argued that the obligation of the government under S.24 is complete upon the making of an unconditional offer of compensation.


In today’s hearing, the SG focused on establishing the nature of the proviso in S.24 (a proviso is used to typically add a qualification/condition to a legal provision). One of the core issues before the Bench is whether the proviso in S.24 should be read as adding a qualification to only sub-section (2) or both sub-section (2) and sub-section (1)(b). The SG today submitted that the proviso only qualifies sub-section (2). He relied on the punctuations used in the provision to buttress his submission. The hearing also saw the Additional Solicitor General, Pinky Anand and two counsels on behalf of the Maharashtra State Development Authority and the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation make their submissions on S.24.


Section 24 of the Land Acquisition Act:

24. Land acquisition process under Act No. 1 of 1894 shall be deemed to have lapsed in certain cases. – (1) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, in any case of land acquisition proceedings initiated under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894,—
(a) where no award under section 11 of the said Land Acquisition Act has been made, then, all provisions of this Act relating to the determination of compensation shall apply; or
(b) where an award under said section 11 has been made, then such proceedings shall continue under the provisions of the said Land Acquisition Act, as if the said Act has not been repealed.
(2) Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-section (1), in case of land acquisition proceedings initiated under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 (1 of 1894), where an award under the said section 11 has been made five years or more prior to the commencement of this Act but the physical possession of the land has not been taken or the compensation has not been paid the said proceedings shall be deemed to have lapsed and the appropriate Government, if it so chooses, shall initiate the proceedings of such land acquisition afresh in accordance with the provisions of this Act:
Provided that where an award has been made and compensation in respect of a majority of land holdings has not been deposited in the account of the beneficiaries, then, all beneficiaries specified in the notification for acquisition under section 4 of the said Land Acquisition Act, shall be entitled to compensation in accordance with the provisions of this Act.


Placement of punctuations determine the scope of the proviso

The SG pointed out to the Bench that sub-section (1)(b) ends with a full-stop. This is in stark contrast to sub-section (2) which ends with a colon. The conscious placement of these punctuations by the legislature, pointed out the SG, was to limit the scope of the proviso to sub-section (2). He argued that anything which follows a colon describes the text which precedes it. On the other hand, the full-stop was used to indicate that the content of sub-section (1) (b) ended with it.


Thus, SG was categorical in his argument that the Court cannot ‘lift’ a proviso and place it anywhere it deemed fit, other than where the legislature had envisaged it.


He further submitted that the government shall not be divested of the acquired land merely due to non-payment of compensation. Nevertheless, he pointed out that the liability to pay interest shall begin as soon as an award has been made under section 11 of the Act. 


(Court rose at 1 pm for lunch)


Narrow construction to avoid anomalies

In the post-lunch session, the SG argued that sub-section (2) was narrow in scope. Elaborating on this, he submitted how such a narrow interpretation shall restrict land owners, who may be in a minority, from claiming a “lapse” of the acquisition on the basis of non-payment of compensation, even if possession had been initiated.


Thereafter, Sr. Adv. Anoop Chaudhari, appearing for one of the Respondents, submitted that non-payment of compensation alone cannot lead to lapsing of acquisition proceedings. Instead, proceedings shall lapse only if government fails to pay compensation and take physical possession of the property. Moreover, he also submitted that lapsing of one of the acquisition proceedings in a batch of proceedings shall not lead to the lapsing of the entire batch.  


Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand then re-iterated the submission that payment of compensation was not a necessary condition for vesting of rights over the lands sought to be acquired.


The day’s hearing came to a close with counsels representing the Maharashtra State Development Authority and Delhi Metro Rail Corporation making brief submissions on the scope of S.24. The Bench then directed that the rest of the counsels would all receive 7 minutes each to make their submissions the next day.


(Court reporting by Sanya Talwar)