Land acquisition flawed without actual receipt of compensation: Supreme Court
New Delhi: The Supreme Court ruled the process of land acquisition would be flawed in the absence of actual receipt of compensation, noting that even though right to property is no more fundamental right, it still remains a constitutional right.
"On the aspect of the compensation, only a covering letter is available, and not the actual receipt," said a bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and K.M. Joseph as they heard a land acquisition matter to decide whether the due process of law was followed under Section 5(1) of the Sikkim Land (Requisition and Acquisition) Act, 1977, which is similar to the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.
The case pertains to acquisition, by the state's Agriculture Department, land measuring 8.36 acres in Dundung Block, Sang in east Sikkim for the purpose of building the Progeny Orchard Regional Centre. The land was recorded in two names - 1.29 acres in the name of the Maharaja of Sikkim and 7.07 acres in the name of Man Bahadur Basnett, father of the original appellant. Basnett's land was the subject matter of dispute.
The land acquisition by the government has been challenged, as no notice of acquisition was ever published, nor any process followed for the same.
The top court observed: "An unusual process of making payment in cash is claimed to have been adopted, and the amount is not an insignificant amount, if we look at the year of acquisition. We even gave a further opportunity to the authorities to show, as to from which account this compensation was withdrawn by the Collector, but it appears that there is no proof even of the withdrawal of the amount, much less payment of the compensation."
The top court said the burden was on the state to prove that the process as envisaged under the said Act was followed and cited ample primary and secondary evidence on non-compensation.
"Not an iota of evidence has been laid in support of any of these aspects, except the willingness of late Man Bahadur Basnett to permit the land to be acquired on payment of compensation, the forwarding of the amount by the Land Revenue Department to the District Collector through a cheque, and thereafter a letter from the Collector stating that some receipt was being enclosed, acknowledging the payment in cash (without a receipt being found)," said the court.
The top court observed that the government had failed to establish the acquisition of land in accordance with law. "The appellant/original landowner was, thus, entitled to the possession of the land and also damages for illegal use and occupation of the same by the respondents (Collector)," it said.
The apex court, emphasising on following due process of land acquisition, said: "We may note that even though rights in land are no more fundamental right, still it remains a constitutional right under Article 300A of the Constitution of India, and the provisions of any Act seeking to divest any person from the rights in property have to be strictly followed."
The matter came before the apex court as an appeal to the 2008 verdict of the Sikkim High Court. In May 2019, this matter was taken up and then referred to mediation, but it failed and as a result, again came before the court.