The State’s right to expropriate land is not an absolute one and it would lapse if the acquisition proceeding is not completed within five years, the Supreme Court said Thursday, in response to a plea by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) on the acquisition of a piece of land in Vasant Kunj in 1961. The court also emphasised that the State should provide compensation to landowners immediately, to help them rehabilitate.
A bench of Justices Kurian Joseph and Rohinton F Nariman quashed the DDA’s appeal and held that the acquisition proceeding — pertaining to an over 20-acre land in Vasant Kunj — was “bad in law” due to the delay in granting compensation to the original owners. While the land was notified for acquisition in 1961, the DDA took possession of it almost 40 years later, and none of the landowners have received any compensation so far.
Citing relevant provisions of the Land Acquisition Act, 2013, the bench said, “The State has no business to expropriate from a citizen his property if an award has been made and the necessary steps to complete acquisition have not been taken for a period of five years or more. These steps include the taking of physical possession of land and payment of compensation.”
It emphasised that the 2013 Act had helped many, including poor farmers, whose land had been acquired under the Land Acquisition Act but who were not given any compensation.
“What the legislature is in effect telling the Executive is that they ought to have put their house in order and completed the acquisition proceedings within a reasonable time after pronouncement of award. Not having done so, even after a leeway of five years is given, would cross the limits of legislative tolerance, after which the whole proceeding would be deemed to have lapsed,” said the apex court.
It said the State’s acquisition would be declared as non est (nullity) if either the physical possession of the land was not taken or compensation was not paid within five years.
“It is high time that the State realises that persons whose property is expropriated need to be paid immediately so as to rehabilitate themselves,” said the bench. The court pointed out that the compensation offered — by way of an award of a Land Acquisition Collector under the old Land Acquisition Act of 1894 — was way below the real market value.
“The present original land owners’ lands were notified for acquisition on October 24, 1961, of which possession was taken four decades later, in 2000; after which the land owners have yet to see the colour of the paltry amount of compensation offered which has neither been tendered nor paid to them. In the facts disclosed by this case, there could not be stronger facts to hold such acquisition non est in accordance with the object sought to be achieved by Section 24 (2) of the 2013 Act,” it said.