Supreme Court: Temporary acquisition cannot be continued for approximately 20 to 25 years.
In the previous week, the Apex Court in Manubhai Sendabhai Bharwad and anr vs Oil & Natural Gas Corporation and ors held that the temporary acquisition for a longer period can be said to be unreasonable and infringes the rights of the landowners. The Bench comprising of Justices MR Shah and MM Sundresh said that temporary acquisition can not go on for 20 or 25 years as it would lose its meaning and purpose.
Facts of the Case
The subject matter of the proceedings revolves around a disputed land that was temporarily acquitted since 1996 for oil exploration by Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd. (ONGC). On 15th March 2005, the appellant purchased the said land under a registered sale deed. Since the land is situated in Ahmedabad, the prices of the lands have significantly increased and the surrounding lands are already developed yet the appellant is still being paid rent at the rate of Rs. 24/- (Rupees Twenty-Four Only) per square meter per annum.
In the year 2016, the appellant had approached the Gujarat High Court. He pleaded with the court to direct the respondent to either permanently acquire the land or release the land from acquisition. The writ petition was disposed of on 23rd February 2017 where in the respondent agreed to acquire the land permanently and the process for same would be initiated. The Respondent did not take the required steps but approached the Special Land Acquisition Officer/Collector. The Officer’s response was that there will be a huge cost involved under the new Land Acquisition Act, of 2013. Hence, the acquisition proceedings were kept on hold and the respondent continued to pay rent. So, the appellant once again approached the High Court and asked to quash the order and direct the respondent to vacant and peacefully hand over the disputed land.
Judgment by Gujarat High Court
The High Court had rejected the prayer put forth by the appellant for quashing the temporary acquisition and observed that the Respondent had enhanced the amount of rent from Rs. 24/- (Rupees Twenty-Four Only) to 30/- (Rupees Thirty Only) per square meter per annum. Further, the High Court directed ONGC to pay rent of Rs. 1,000/- per square meter per month as claimed by the appellants, till the acquisition of the land on a permanent basis.
As the appellants were dissatisfied with the High Court’s order, they knocked on the door of the Supreme Court.
Arguments on behalf of the Appellant
The learned Senior Advocate appearing on behalf of Appellant Mr. Gopal stated that the temporary acquisition for twenty-five years along with paltry rent is unreasonable and violative of Article 300 A of the Constitution of India. He further stated that despite High Court’s order to acquire land permanently the Respondent did not take concrete steps, it merely increased the rent rate to Rs. 30/- (Rupees Thirty Only). Also, due to the land being acquired for so long the Appellant could not fetch the market price nor received sufficient compensation due to the non-acquisition of the land.
Submission on behalf of the Respondent
The learned Additional Solicitor General of India appearing on behalf of the Respondent was Mr. Vikramjit. He stated that the land was acquired by the ONGC for its oil exploration activities on a temporary basis and the landowners i.e. is Appellant was being paid the annual rent revised from time to time by the committee. Also, the approval for permanent acquisition is pending. Therefore, the Respondent needs more time to acquire the land permanently.
The bench was of the fact that approximately 26 years have passed and if the land is continued to be under temporary acquisition by ONGC then its significance is lost. Justice Shah issued a writ of mandamus to High Court directing the ONGC to complete the acquisition proceedings on or before 26th April 2023, or else necessary consequences shall follow. As far as the annual rent paid is concerned the Appellant can approach the Collector if he is aggrieved by the amount paid by the Respondent.
Source: LiveLaw and Bar and Bench