Day 8: 21 November 2019
Today, Sr. Adv. Shyam Divan, appearing for the respondents in the lead petition – Indore Development Authority v. Manohar Lal - commenced his submissions. He started off by highlighting the transformative nature of the 2013 Land Acquisition Act (‘2013 Act’). Thereafter, he submitted that the 2013 Act had provided for the lapsing of all proceedings for which the award was passed before the cut-off date of 1 January 2009 and the acquisition proceedings had not been completed till the date of commencement of the Act. He also submitted that while calculating the cut-off date, the time spent before courts should not be factored in.
Transformative nature of the 2013 Act
Much of the morning’s submissions were focused on the transformative character of the 2013 Act. Sr.Adv. Divan submitted how the Act is a radical departure from its predecessor – 1894 Land Acquisition Act – in that it prioritized the welfare of the citizens as opposed to the colonial nature of the 1894 Act. Given this change, the courts too must interpret the legislation accordingly and not perpetuate the colonial mindset found in the 1894 Act, argued Sr.Adv.Divan.
Thereafter, Sr. Adv Divan urged that the Court should uphold the ratio in Pune Municipal Corporation as good law. In order to substantiate this, he took the Court through the procedural history of the decision. The High Court had quashed the acquisition notification issued by the Pune Municipal Corporation under the 1894 Land Acquisition Act. Thereafter, the Corporation filed an appeal in the Supreme Court, which in turn was rejected. Sr.Adv. Divan pointed out that even if the Corporation was successful in their challenge against the High Court order, by virtue of Section 24(2) of the 2013 Act, the acquisition proceedings would have lapsed. Nevertheless, Arun Mishra J. pointed out that the question of application of Section 24 (2) was never in issue in Pune Municipal Corporation and therefore applying it was misguided. Moreover, the Bench observed that if the Corporation had succeeded in quashing the notification, the question of acquisition itself would have become irrelevant and in turn, the payment of compensation.
Adv. Divan responded to it by stating that even if Pune Municipal Corporation’s appeal was allowed by the Court, deposit in the treasury would not have been sufficient to avoid lapsing.
Lapsing of acquisitions and time spent in legal proceedings
He then went on to address the Court on the interpretation of Section 24(2) of the Act. As per him, for awards passed prior to the cut-off date of 1 January 2009, such proceedings should be deemed to lapse if they are not completed because of a failure to take physical possession or payment of compensation. It was further submitted that in determining such failure to complete the proceedings, any time spent before the courts of law over disputes in relation to proceedings should not be factored in.
Sr. Adv. Divan further argued that the pendency of proceedings before a court of law had no bearing on the determination of completion of acquisition proceedings and in turn on lapsing. He pointed out that the Parliament’s intention was to allow a large number of acquisitions under the old Act to lapse in order to promote the interests of farmers and the downtrodden.
Nevertheless, the Bench, particularly Justices Arun Mishra and S Ravindra Bhat, expressed their reservations about the arguments put forth by Sr.Adv. Divan. They wondered how an acquiring authority could be expected to complete the acquisition proceedings by taking physical possession and payment of compensation when such acquisition is stayed by a court. In such circumstances, if the period spent before court was not excluded for the purposes of S.24(2), it would lead to severe hardship for the acquiring authority, noted the Bench.
Reference to case laws
Sr. Adv.Divan thereafter pointed out that a number of judgments support the proposition he advanced - that the time spent before a court would not affect the operation of S.24(2). Nevertheless, the Bench observed that merely because the previous judgments have upheld a wrong proposition of law, the same should not be perpetuated infinitely.
The Bench then rose at 4 pm, and will now hear Sr. Adv. Shyam Divan on 26 November (Tuesday) on the true meaning of “compensation not paid” appearing in S.24.
(Court reporting by Siddhartha Iyer)