Mansimran Kaur

Mumbai, June 18,2022: While observing that the supply of copy of awards is essential for effective exercise of rights vested in the appellant to seek reference under Section 18 (1) of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, the Bombay High Court has allowed the appeals filed by the appellants against the judgment and decree passed by the Civil Judge in a Land Acquisition Reference case. 

The Bench of Justice M.S. Jawalkar opined that  the  Reference Court totally erred in deciding issue of limitation without framing the same and without granting any opportunity to lead evidence to that effect to the appellants. 

Factual matrix of the case was such that the appellants were the owner of the field survey situated at Taluka Balapur District, Aloka. The Government acquired 1.50 HR, 1.46 HR, 2.56 HR and 1.22 HR lands out of these lands. The respondents acquired this land as the same was coming under submergence while expansion of the dam for construction of the plant for the second respondent. Notification under Section 4 of the Land Acquisition Act was published and consequently an award was passed awarding compensation of Rs. 99,000 per hectare.

It was the case of the appellants that they were not present before the collector when the awards were passed.  Copies of awards were also not provided to the appellants/claimants along with the notice issued under Section 12(2) of the Act. On getting the copy, the appellants filed reference under Section 18 of the Act for enforcement of compensation at the rate of Rs. 10,00,000 and Rs.12,50,000 per hectare. However, the third Joint Civil Judge Senior Division dismissed the reference. 

Referring to Section 12 of Land Acquisition Act, 1894, the Court opined that it is the duty of the collector to give notice and award to the person interested who are not present personally or by their representative when the award is made. According to the Bench, the Reference Court relied on the letter issued by the Collector and presumed that notices were issued on February 15, 2011 calling claimants for accepting compensation on February 21, 2011.  The Reference Court though admitted that there was no mention that when the notices were served upon the claimants, he placed the burden of establishing the date on which the claimants received the notice. Failure to place the copy of notice by the claimants, the Reference Court drew adverse inference against the claimants, the Court noted.  

At this stage, reliance was placed on the case of Premji Natthu Vs. State of Gujarat and another and the Court noted that on behalf of the State Government no evidence was furnished before the Reference Court to show that the copies of the awards were sent to the appellants along with the notice.  In furtherance of the same, the Court opined that the Reference Court committed serious error while drawing adverse inference against the claimants specifically when the burden of proving the fact that copy of award was supplied along with the notice was on the respondent.

There was no evidence present on record that indicated that the respondents supplied the copy of the record along with the notice to the appellants. Thus, it was unjustified and unreasonable to ask the appellants to prove the negative facts, the Court noted. The Court reiterated the settled proposition as culled out from the precedents that supply of copy of awards is essential for effective exercise of rights vested in the appellant to seek reference under Section 18 (1). 

Thus, the Court was of the view that it necessary to frame the issue of limitation before recording finding as there were mixed questions of law and fact involved in the present case. In view of Section 18 (b) it is necessary for calculating the period of limitation, the date of service of effective notice and therefore it is also necessary to frame the issue of limitation and allow the parties to lead evidence to that effect, the Court remarked. Thus, in light of the aforesaid observations, the common impugned passed in the Land Acquisition case in the instant matter was set aside and the appeals were allowed. 

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