'Acquisition of land puts reciprocal duty to compensate land owner': Bombay High Court dismisses plea by NHAI challenging compensation award

Owners of the acquired land who are farmers may have a further struggle ahead in receiving the awarded compensation, the Court noted while rejecting every relief sought by NHAI in its plea.
'Acquisition of land puts reciprocal duty to compensate land owner': Bombay High Court dismisses plea by NHAI challenging compensation award
Bombay High Court

The power of the government to acquire land for public purpose comes with the reciprocal duty to ensure that the land owner is compensated, the Bombay High Court said on Friday, dismissing a plea by National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) challenging an arbitral award to pay compensation.

Justice MN Jadhav upheld the award by Deputy Collector of Land Acquisition Nashik (Arbitrator) to handover compensation to landowners - MB Pawar and US Thorat (Respondents in the present plea) along with interest.

“Acquisition of land for public purpose is undertaken under the power of eminent domain of the government against the wishes of the owners of the land which gets acquired. When such a power is exercised, it is coupled with a bounden reciprocal duty and obligation on the part of the government body to ensure that the owners whose land gets acquired are paid compensation,the court said in its order.

The court refused to set aside the Arbitrator’s award as he agreed with the finding in the Award that "other similarly placed owners had been compensated at the same rate after their lands were acquired for public purpose."

The Plea was filed by the NHAI for setting aside Reference award of January 5, 2017 passed by the arbitrator directing them to pay compensation at the rate of Rs. 2700 per square meter for the land belonging to the owners.

The award was upheld by the Principal District and Sessions Judge, Nashik in October 2018 which was also challenged before the High Court.

NHAI moved the High Court after a civil court in Nashik directed the NHAI, on November 7, 2020 to deposit the compensation at a reduced rate of Rs. 2200 per sq.mtr. within one month from the date of the order, failing which NHAI's bank account would be seized by the court.

Advocate Rakesh Singh of MV Kini & Co. appearing for NHAI proposed that they were willing to submit the compensation amount to the court in the interim, while the plea is finally heard.

However, Advocate PN Joshi for the land owners countered the NHAI arguinga that “the facts in the present case were so gross such that they would shock the conscience of this Court in so far as the conduct of NHAI is concerned”.

He apprised the court that the rights of the land owners over their land was effectively frozen since 2007, after their land was notified to be acquired for designated public purpose.

He contended that the compensation proceedings before the arbitrator took 8 years to conclude and it has been 4 years since then, yet the owners have not received a single penny.

Justice Jadhav took cognizance of the conduct of NHAI of keeping the land owners deprived of their land holdings for 13 long years while their land had been put to use for public purpose.

"Owners of the acquired land who are farmers and have fought this long winded battle may have a further struggle ahead in receiving the awarded compensation and will be made to run from pillar to post once again,"

the High Court said.

The court also noted that NHAI moved the plea which was filed in June 2019 before the vacation court only after the order of Nov 2020 was passed.

He reprimanded the NHAI for their gross delay at all stages and found it a good enough ground to reject the reliefs sought by them in their plea.

"The petitioner (NHAI) being a Government body ought to have been diligent in its approach in the Court of law. Had it not been for the order dated 7 November 2020 passed by the Executing Court, the Petitioner would not have moved the Petition at all thereby keeping the owners of the acquired land in the lurch," the court said.

The Court, therefore, dismissed NHAI's petition and direced them to comply with the arbitrator’s award within 8 weeks from the date of order . It also and stayed the order in the execution proceedings before the Civil Court, Nashik till January 12, 2021.

[Read Order]

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NHAI v. Maltibai Pawar & Anr..pdf
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