Read Order: Laxmi Educational Society, Manesar and others v. State of Haryana and others

Monika Rahar

Chandigarh, August 4, 2022: Recently, the High Court of Punjab and Haryana has held that any permission for change of land use/licence/NOC/any other permission granted once, would not grant any immunity to the said land for all times to come, from its  acquisition by the State, if it is required for the “Public Purpose” as the  private interest will have to make way for the public interest.

The Division Bench of Chief Justice Ravi Shanker Jha and Justice Arun Palli further held, “The doctrine of “legitimate expectation” or the principle of “promissory  estoppel” can’t be pressed into service where the public interest is likely to suffer as against the personal interest of a party.”

The petitioners approached the Court questioning the acquisition of their land in question by the Government on the ground that they were granted the permission to set up the school and the NOC was issued to them to set up the B.Ed. college, therefore, the State cannot afterwards turn around and acquire the land for development of Industrial Model township to be developed as an Integrated complex for industrial, residential, recreational and other public utilities. 

The Court addressed five broad questions in this case, the first of which was whether the permission for change of land use/licence/NOC/any other permission granted once, would grant immunity to the said land for all  times to come, from its acquisition by the State under the applicable Land  Acquisition Act (presently, land Acquisition Act 1894), even if it is required for the “Public Purpose”?

With respect to this question, the Court opined that any permission for change of land use/licence/NOC/any other permission granted once, would  not grant any immunity to the said land for all times to come, from its  acquisition by the State, if it is required for the “Public Purpose” as the  private interest will have to make way for the public interest, on to the  touch stone of regard for the public interest is the higher law. Also, the Court opined that the  doctrine of “legitimate expectation” or the principle of “promissory  estoppel” can’t be pressed into service where the public interest is likely to suffer as against the personal interest of a party. 

Secondly, the Court addressed the content of the petitioners which was that the land in question, even though vacant, was reserved for future expansion and setting up B.Ed. College and the acquisition may prejudice its future prospects especially when the  land in question as per HSIIDC itself will merely effect the testing track which in the assessment of petitioners can’t be said to be affecting the public purpose.

In this regard, the Court the definition of public purpose is not capable of being given a static and definite definition and that the state is the first judge to decide the “public purpose” for which the land is required to be used, though such decision is subject to judicial scrutiny. 

Further, it was observed that the land in question is required for development of industrial infrastructure which constitutes “public purpose”. 

It can be utilized for any allied or connected or even other public purpose for its optimum utilization. The vague pleas that the use of the land is not for public purpose are not sufficient to question the validity of the acquisition proceedings”, opined the Bench while also adding that since long time has lapsed from the date of acquisition, even if due to change in the planning, if the land in question is sought to be utilised for any other public purpose, there would no impediment for the acquiring agency to proceed with the same in view of the settled proposition of law.

The third question before the Court was whether recommendations having been made by the land Acquisition Collector u/s 5A of the 1894 Act to release the land, the State cannot proceed to acquire the said land especially when the beneficiary department is of the view that any such release made will affect the planning done to achieve the public purpose, for which, the land is being sought to be acquired?

In this respect, the Bench opined that stage of  deciding the objections u/s 5A of 1894 Act is not a mere formality but requires objective consideration and that sub-section (2) of Section 5 A of the 1894 Act casts an onerous obligation on the collector to consider the objections in a fair, impartial and dispassionate manner and to place the same before State Government for its decision which shall be final. 

Further, it was added that the State Government is obligated to consider the same keeping in view all the relevant factors including the object for which the acquisition is being made. 

This would imply to take into consideration the objections/suggestions/recommendation of all the stakeholders i.e., of the beneficiary department as well, on whose shoulders, the responsibilities lie to develop the land so as to achieve the public purpose“, held the Court while adding, 

The decision of State Government in proceeding with the acquisition by no stretch of imagination can be held to be bad merely because the LAC had recommended for release of the land as this issue is no more res Integra that the report/recommendations made by the LAC are not binding on the state except the same are required to be considered while taking final decision”.

In light of the above, in the present case, the Court approved the decision of the State Government to acquire the land in question, after considering the report of the Collector as well as HSIIDC.

Fourthly, the Court decided the question of whether the petitioners have made out a case of discrimination within the ambit of Article 14 of the Constitution of India by referring to certain releases made by the State and setting up the plea of hostile discrimination  on the part of the State?

Here it was opined by the Court that I’m order to plead discrimination, the onus is on the petitioners to show that they are identically situated to such persons in whose favour discrimination is being pleaded. In case at hand, it was observed that except making vague assertions of discrimination and making reference to instances which does not even relates to the instant acquisition proceedings, the petitioners did not place on any material to support its contention of discrimination. Further, it was  added that the withdrawal from acquisition is  impressible in the scheme of Act of 1894 after the possession of the land stands taken. 

Even if there is any order vide which the land was released from the acquisition proceedings after taking its possession by way of rapat or otherwise, such an order is per se illegal and no parity can be claimed with illegality having been committed by the State, more so, when in case at hand the possession of the land stands taken and land stands vested in the State”, held the Court.

The last question before the Court was whether the land in question was vested in the State with the recording of Rapat Roznamcha and the status of landowner has become of a “trespasser”?

In this respect, the bench opined that the undisputed position in the case at hand remained that the status quo was granted by this court after the award was announced and possession of the land was taken. The Court noted that this fact was not even brought to the notice of the court when notice was being issued. In such circumstances, the fact remained that the possession of the land had already been taken by the State and as such the land stood vested, therefore, amongst other grounds as discussed above, the petitioners deserve to be non-suited on the ground that the land stands vested in the State.

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