Read Order: National Highways Authority of India Through its Project Director and ors v. Sub-Divisional Officer cum Land Acquisition Officer and ors 

Tulip Kanth

Nagpur, May 02, 2022: In a case pertaining to a land acquisition undertaken for the construction of National Highway No.361, the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court has observed that the landowners whose lands have been acquired have a right for being suitably compensated and the said right is guaranteed under Article 300A of the Constitution of India.

The Bench of Justice Manish Pitale was considering a petition filed by the National Highways Authority of India and the Government of India through the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways(petitioners) challenging an order passed by the first respondent– Sub-Divisional Officer cum Land Acquisition Officer, Yavatmal. By the said order an application filed by the land owners(fourth to sixth respondents), under Section 3C of the National Highways Act, 1956, had been allowed and specific directions were given to the petitioners in the context of certain portions of land located in District – Yavatmal.

The petitioners undertook a project for constructing National Highway No.361 passing through Gut No.4, Mouza Madkona, and for that purpose provisions of the aforesaid Act were invoked for acquisition of land. Declaration was issued under Section 3A, declaring intention to acquire 1.8261 HR of land from Gut No.4, in Mouza Madkona. The landowners raised objections under Section 3C in respect of the acquisition proposed to be undertaken and it was their case that 0.62 HR and 0.26 HR lands from the aforesaid Gut No.4, Mouza Madkona, were utilized by the petitioners for construction of the said National Highway No.361 and yet, the petitioners had not taken appropriate steps for compensating them. In this backdrop, the said application under Section 3C was filed and was allowed.

The petitioners filed the present petition, wherein notice was issued for final disposal.

Referring to the National Highways Act, 1956, the Bench observed that under Section 3C the nature of objections that can be raised is limited and the acquisition cannot be challenged. In the present case, the owners of the aforesaid pieces of land raised serious concerns about being deprived of the aforesaid pieces of land, without being compensated for the same. In fact, the tenor of the entire objections was that they ought to be compensated, not only for possession of the said pieces of land being taken for construction of Highway No.361, but also for the reason that the remaining area of land belonging to the said respondents had been rendered either unmarketable or inaccessible, thereby diminishing the utility of the remaining area of land belonging to them.

Hence, this Court was convinced that the nature of objections raised on behalf of respondents-land owners did fall within the scope and jurisdiction of first respondent under Section 3C and so, the contentions raised on behalf of the petitioners that first respondent No.1 exceeded its jurisdiction while passing the impugned order, was not accepted.

The petitioners had vehemently contended that the observations made in the impugned order were uncalled for and the direction to pay compensation by preparing land acquisition Award for having utilized the aforesaid pieces of land could not have been granted, particularly when proceedings under Section 3D of the said Act were not undertaken in respect of the said two pieces of land in Gut No.4, Mouza Madkona.

According to the Bench, documents were available on record which made it clear that the aforesaid pieces of land belonging to owners had indeed been utilized for construction of National Highway No.361 and that the said respondents had been deprived of the said pieces of land and the first respondent concluded that since the two pieces of land had been undisputedly utilized for construction of National Highway No.361, the objections and apprehensions expressed by the said respondents were justified. It was in this context that the direction was given by Land Acquisition Officer for rendering land acquisition Award and suitably compensating the owners of the said two pieces of land.

It was also undisputed that declaration under section 3A was issued for acquisition of the said pieces of land. Hence, this Court was of the opinion that the findings of facts rendered by Officer-first respondent on the basis of material on record could not be found fault with.

The Bench said, “The petitioners cannot hide behind the excuse that appropriate proceeding under Section 3D of the Act was never undertaken regarding the said pieces of land and therefore, there was no question of rendering an Award for payment of compensation to respondent Nos.2 to 6.”

It appeared from the tenor of the contentions raised on behalf of the petitioners that it was the State Government, which may have utilized 0.62 HR land from Gut No.4, Mouza Madkona, which thereafter, may have been subsumed or utilized in construction of National Highway No.361, and the petitioners could not be held responsible for payment of compensation for utilization of said pieces of land. The Bench did not accept the aforesaid contention and approach adopted by the petitioners because when this Court put pointed queries to the counsel for the petitioners, he could not demonstrate that National Highway No.361 did not run through the aforesaid pieces of land belonging to the owners. On the contrary, the owners proved that the said pieces of land were indeed utilized for construction of the said highway, as per the joint measurement report and the order of the Deputy Superintendent of Land Records.

A contention was raised with regard to the fact that an order was passed in one of the Writ petition filed by the second respondent concerning the very same piece of land admeasuring 0.62 HR in Gut No.4, Mouza Madkona wherein this Court had dismissed that petition.Referring to this contention, the Bench opined that on the basis of joint measurement report, wherein the representative of first petitioner was also present and he signed the same, it was recorded as a matter of fact that the aforesaid pieces of land belonging to the owners were indeed utilized for construction of National Highway No.361 and this material was appreciated by the Deputy Superintendent of Land Records while dismissing the appeal filed by the first petitioner. Considering the same, the Bench held that the dismissal of Writ Petition by the Division Bench of this Court could not be of any assistance to the petitioners in this case.

As per the Bench, the first petitioner is the authority for whom the entire exercise of acquisition and utilization of the lands in question took place and when the material on record undeniably demonstrated that the said two pieces of land were indeed utilized for construction of National Highway then the petitioners could not have challenged the Award in the present writ petition.

The Bench asserted, “Land owners whose lands are acquired ought to be suitably compensated for the same. It is the right of respondent Nos.2 to 6, for being suitably compensated and the said right is guaranteed under Section 300-A of the Constitution of India.”

Hence, the Bench found the petition to be meritless and dismissed the same.

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