Supreme Court: In the matter seeking the correct construction of Section 24(2) of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, the Court held that Section 24(2) uses the expression “deemed to have lapsed” because the Legislature was cognizant of the fact that, in cases where compensation has not been paid, and physical possession handed over to the State, vesting has taken place, after which land acquisition proceedings could be said to have ended. Considering the difference in phraseology between Section 11A of the Land Acquisition Act that used the word ‘lapsed’ and Section 24(2) of the 2013 Act where ‘deemed to have lapsed’ has been mentioned, the Court said that a deeming fiction is enacted so that a putative state of affairs must be imagined, the mind not being allowed to boggle at the logical consequence of such putative state of affairs.

It was further explained that under Section 24(2) of the 2013 Act, the State has no business to expropriate from a citizen his property if an award has been made and the necessary steps to complete acquisition have not been taken for a period of five years or more. These steps include the taking of physical possession of land and payment of compensation. What the legislature is in effect telling the executive is that they ought to have put their house in order and complete the acquisition proceedings within a reasonable time after pronouncement of award. Not having done so even after a leeway of five years is given, would cross the limits of legislative tolerance, after which the whole proceeding would be deemed to have lapsed.

The bench of Kurian Joseph and R.F. Nariman, JJ said that the object of the 2013 Act, and Section 24 in particular, is that in case an award has been made for five years or more, possession ought to have been taken within this period, or else it is statutorily presumed that the balance between the citizen’s right to retain his own property and the right of the State to expropriate it for a public purpose gets so disturbed as to make the acquisition proceedings lapse. Alternatively, if compensation has not been paid within this period, it is also statutorily presumed that the aforesaid balance gets disturbed so as to free such property from acquisition. [Delhi Development Authority v. Sukhbir Singh, 2016 SCC OnLine SC 929, decided on 09.09.2016]

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