Bombay High Court last week turned down petitions questioning the constitutional validity of sections of the Maharashtra Slum Areas (Improvement,Clearance and Redevelopment) Act,1971 (the Slum Act) that refer to the governments power to acquire land housing and/or adjoining a slum for redevelopment and compensation for land owners.
Acquisition of lands under the provisions of the Slum Act is not merely for the benefit of a large number of persons residing in sub-human conditions in slums,but also to ensure that improvement of their living conditions will lead to improvement of the urban economy,which is very much dependent upon the labour force being supplied by the occupants of hutments in slums, Chief Justice Mohit Shah and Justice Anoop Mohta said in their 57-page order.
A group of petitions was filed by persons aggrieved by the state governments notices to acquire their land after terming the plots slums under section 14 of the Act. They had been served with notices between 1977 and 1998. They contended that the section grants unfettered power to the state government as there is no provision to hear them,pass a reasoned order or file an appeal before a judicial or quasi-judicial authority.
The petitioners also contested section 17 that allegedly awards an illusory compensation to land owners. They submitted a table the court,citing cases in which the government acquired 1,575 sq m of land in Bandra and paid Rs 2.16 lakh as compensation to owner Sara DMello and 6,438 sq m of land in Parel,for which the owner Nensi Monji received a compensation of Rs 34,992.
Arguing for the state government,senior counsel E P Bharucha,however,told the court that the payment of lands market value to the owners who allowed a slum to thrive on it would defeat the purpose of the Act.
According to section 17 (3) of the Act,the owner of slum land receives compensation at 60 times the net average monthly income derived from the land over five consecutive years immediately preceding the date of the notice for acquisition issued under section 14 of the Act.
The Slum Rehabilitation Authority told the court that the valuation showed in the ready reckoner of the lands in question is only of the open land on which there is no encumbrance. Hence,the valuation in ready reckoner cannot be treated as valuation of land which is already encroached upon.
The court said if the land owner is aggrieved by the compensation amount,there is the alternative to file an appeal in the Slum tribunal.