Tulip Kanth

New Delhi, April 27, 2022: In a case where the lands of the farmers were being utilized for construction/widening of Sulthan Batheri Bypass Road, the Supreme Court has held that such construction would be a public purpose but the action of the official respondents by not paying compensation without any justification would be clearly violative of Article 300A of the Constitution.

The Division Bench of Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice Vikram Nath opined that If the Panchayat and the PWD failed to produce any evidence that appellants had surrendered their lands voluntarily, then depriving the appellants of the property would be in violation of Article 300-A of the Constitution.

The Top Court was considering the plea of eight appellants who assailed the correctness of judgment passed by the Division Bench of the High Court of Kerala at Ernakulam between Sulthan Bathery Municipality vs. Kalyani and 12 others, whereby the judgment of the Single Judge was set aside and the writ petition filed by the appellants was dismissed.

The relevant facts of this case were such that the appellants are the owners of the land in dispute which is situated within the territorial limits of first Respondent-Sulthan Bhathery Grama Panchayat which was later on declared a Municipality. The Panchayat requested the appellants to utilize their land for construction/widening of Sulthan Batheri Bypass Road and the appellants were assured that they would be given adequate compensation for their land utilized for the said purpose. According to the appellants, they gave their land on the assurance that they would be given compensation.

After the construction when no compensation was paid, the appellants made various representations but no heed was paid to their request and so they approached the High Court of Kerala.

Therein, the stand taken by the Panchayat was that the land had been voluntarily given without any claim for compensation. The Panchayat denied having given any assurance regarding adequate compensation to be paid to the appellants. It was also alleged that the construction of road was completed in 2010 whereas the appellants approached the High Court in 2014 as such, the petition was substantially delayed and liable to be dismissed on the ground of delay. From PPWD’s side it was also stated that to the best information of PWD, the land in question was surrendered free of cost.

The Single Judge held that appellants would be entitled to compensation for the land utilized for the construction/widening of the road but when the matter reached the Division Bench on appeal, the Bench set aside the judgment of the Single Judge. Hence, the appellants filed the present appeal.

According to the Top Court, it was not disputed that the appellants did lose their land in the construction/widening of the road belonging to the Panchayat/Municipality. It was also admitted that the road as it existed and after further construction and widening would be owned by the Panchayat/Municipality, that is to say that the appellants would be deprived of their right, title or interest over the land utilized for the said purpose. As such the appellants had been deprived of their land in the said process, noted the Court.

The Division Bench asserted, “The appellants are farmers and the land utilized is agricultural land. It was part of their livelihood. Depriving them of their part of their livelihood and also of their property without authority of law would be violative of Article 21 and Article 300A of the Constitution.”

Noticing that Article 300A has status of being a constitutional or a statutory right which provides that no citizen would be deprived of his property save without authority of law, the Bench held that admittedly in this case there was there was neither any acquisition proceedings nor any transfer of rights by the appellants by way of sale, gift or otherwise. 

The stand taken by Panchayat/Municipality was that it was a voluntary surrender of rights for no consideration. As per the bench, if the Panchayat/Municipality was taking this stand then the burden would be on the Panchayat/Municipality to establish such voluntary surrender. A memorandum or an agreement or a written document ought to have been executed by the appellants stating their free will to surrender for no consideration in favour of the Panchayat/Municipality.The Bench also paid heed to the fact that the single Judge had clearly recorded that Panchayat/Municipality as also the PWD failed to produce any such evidence and even the Division Bench did not find any material on record produced by the Panchayat/Municipality or the PWD to the aforesaid effect. 

The Top Court also professed, “The appellants had, from the very beginning, stated that assurance was given by the Panchayat. They had not changed their stand but were consistent. It is for this reason that the learned Single Judge had although directed the collector to determine the value of compensation but the liability to pay the compensation was saddled on the Panchayat/Municipality and not on the State. The Division Bench committed an error in commenting against the appellants and drawing an adverse inference. It took a view too technical, to deprive the appellants of their right to compensation.”

 Article 300A clearly mandates that no person shall be deprived of his property save by authority of law. But, in the present case, the Bench did not find under which authority of law, the land of the appellants was taken and they were deprived of the same.

The Apex Court also referred to its decision in K.T. Plantation Private Limited and another vs. State of Karnataka which dealt with an issue relating to payment of compensation where a person is deprived of his property after deletion of Article 31(2). It laid down that there are two requirements to be fulfilled while depriving a person of his property. Requirement of public purpose is a pre-condition and right to claim compensation is also inbuilt in Article 300-A. 

Thus,the Bench affirmed that the construction/widening of road no doubt would be a public purpose but there being no justification for not paying compensation, the action of the respondents would be arbitrary, unreasonable and clearly violative of Article 300-A of the Constitution. Maintaining the order of the Single Judge, the Top Court allowed the appeal.

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