Land Acquisition Act matters: Live Updates from Supreme Court

Land Acquisition Act matters: Live Updates from Supreme Court

Bar & Bench

The hearing in the batch of cases pertaining to Section 24 of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (Land Acquisition Act, 2013) is currently underway at the Supreme Court.

A Constitution Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, MR Shah, and Ravindra Bhat is hearing the cases.

The matters were initially heard on October 15, when the recusal of Justice Arun Mishra from the case was sought for. After hearing arguments on the question of recusal, the Bench reserved its order. On October 24, such questions were put to bed after Justice Mishra passed a judgment refusing to recuse from the matters.

Live updates from today’s hearing follow:

Arguments of Solicitor General Tushar Mehta

  • Solicitor General Tushar Mehta begins to make submissions on behalf of the Government of India. Section 24 merely provides for that would happen to proceedings initiated under the previous regime, Mehta.
  • Mehta takes the Court through what the provisions under section 24 provide for. Subsection (2) is an exception to subsection (1). Whether the word “or” in subsection (2) is disjunctive or not is what Your Lordships will examine.
  • Majority landholding and compensation not deposited in bank are the two conditions that need to be fulfilled under subsection (2).
  • Entire section needs to be examined from the intention of the Legislature. Why the section was couched the way it was couched?
  • Mehta gives hypothetical example to explain his point. If a big infrastructure project is planned and large area of land is required, some may not agree to this acquisition. Therefore, Legislature says if majority beneficiaries received compensation, acquisition won’t lapse.
  • Justice Mishra asks – What follows if the compensation is not deposited? Mehta reads out provisions under the Act providing for payment to be tendered to the beneficiary.
  • Justice Mishra points at Section 34 of the Act, which provides for payment of interest on the award if the compensation is not paid and possession of land is taken. Mehta: It is for interest on default of payment, but acquisition will not lapse.
  • If proceedings started earlier, then for payment, we will have to rely on Sections 31 to 34.
  • “What is “tender” is also not so easy and simple. The meaning of the word “tender” will also have to be looked into to satisfy the court’s conscience”, Justice Mishra.
  • Mehta says that section 24 is not a standalone provision and will have to be considered in light of the scheme of the Act. Takes the Court through the judgments on the issue starting from Pune Municipal corporation case.
  • Mehta says there was an attempt by the Court to interpret Section 24 in order to save past transactions.
  • Prevailing law has not been superceded. Five years is good time to complete the process.
  • Intent of Parliament must be considered. The words deposited in “bank accounts” of individuals was not considered and words “accounts” of individuals were considered by Rajya Sabha.
  • Mehta explains that the intent was for the money to be deposited in the treasury from where the beneficiary would collect the same. The Court would get a communication that money has been deposited.
  • Justice Mishra: “What if the amount paid is too paltry. What if you are offering me peanuts and insulting me?”
  • Acceptance of the compensation does not mean right to claim further compensation is waived.
  • Bench rises for lunch.
  • Constitution Bench assembles for the post lunch sesion. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta is on his legs in another case, Advocate Kanu Agarwal making submissions for the Centre.
  • “Paid” and “deposit” may be given general meaning as stipulated in the old Act, Agarwal.
  • The purpose of the provision was to balance the interest of public projects and individual rights; to ensure that lapsing of projects where public money is invested does not happen and beneficiaries are compensated, Agarwal.
  • Legislature does not expect the acquiring authority to perform an impossible task of forcing the payment to landowner. Legislature does not use the expression of landowner “accepting the payment” but uses the expression “paid”.
  • Lapsing is drastic and there is a balancing provision in Section 24(1) and the proviso to Section 25(2) to restrict lapsing.
  • Agarwal: By using the words “paid” and “deposit” the legislature has given leeway. Justice Mishra: once it is paid, there is no question of deposit. But when can it be said to be “paid”?
  • Agarwal: “Paid” means to make readily available. If the acquiring authority has made the money available then the authority should not have to suffer the drastic consequence of lapsing.
  • Payment is mandatory but the mode of payment is discretionary, SG Mehta.
  • The question is whether the proviso is for section 24(1) or 24(2).
  • Constitution Bench rises for the day.
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