Supreme Court: In a case where the Union of India was sitting over certain lands since 33 years without any authority, the bench of Indira Banerjee and S. Ravindra Bhat*, JJ directed the Union of India to hand back possession of the suit lands to the appellants, within three months.
“33 years (based upon cessation of the Union’s legal possession) is a long enough time, even in India, to be kept away from one’s property.”
Background of the Case
- Requisitioning and Acquisition of Immovable properties Act, 1952 was brought into force on 15.03.1952 with the object to enable the Union to requisition or acquire immovable property if the competent authority was of the opinion that any property was necessary for a public purpose. By Section 1(3), the Requisitioning Act was to be in force for six years. Section 3 clothed the Union with the power to requisition properties for any public purpose; Section 7 provided the procedure to requisition (or acquire) lands. It also spelt-out the condition precedents for exercise of the power. Section 8 provided for compensation with regard to property. Section 8(2) laid out the principles applicable for determination of compensation for the property as a recurring one.
- On 27.02.1958, the Requisitioning Act was amended and the period of its operation extended. In the meanwhile, the Defence of India Act, 1962 (DIA) was enacted by Parliament empowering the Central Government with powers akin to those enacted under the Requisitioning Act.
- The Union invoked its powers under the DIA and requisitioned the three described properties which belonged to the predecessor of the appellants in 1963.
- By Act 48 of 1963, Section 1(3) of the Requisitioning Act was amended, and the period of operation of the Requisitioning Act was extended till 14.03.1970. In the meanwhile, the DIA lapsed with effect from 10.01.1968. The Requisitioning Act was amended, incorporating Section 25, which enacted that the immovable property requisitioned under the DIA, which had not been released as on 10.01.1968 was deemed to have been requisitioned under the Requisition Act. It also continued the status quo with respect to determination of compensation completed under the DIA.
- The Union’s occupation ceased to be lawful, with the lapse of the Requisitioning Act, in 1987.
- Union asserted that it had acquired at least some parts of the suit lands; these were examined by the High Court on two occasions, and in arbitration proceedings under the Requisitioning Act, on three occasions. The High Court, while noticing that the Union’s claim had no merits (in both its appeal, which was dismissed, as well as in the impugned judgment, disposing of the writ petition), nevertheless refused to issue any direction for the release of the suit lands. The rationale given was that the adjoining areas had been acquired and were used by the Union for defense purposes. The impugned judgment granted indefinite time to the Union to take steps to acquire the suit lands. The Union has not chosen to do so these last 12 years.
Legal effect of requisitioning immovable property
Temporarily- i.e. for the period the requisition order is in operation, the owner loses her possessory rights, even though the title remains undisturbed. Since the deprivation of possession is through authority of law, in keeping with fair procedure, the law provides for payment of compensation in accordance with predetermined principles.
“Yet, the taking of property by definition is finite: it cannot result in expropriation or deprivation of title altogether, unless another process for acquiring it, is initiated.”
Right to Property
Stating that it is not open to the state: in any of its forms (executive, state agencies, or legislature) to claim that the law – or the constitution can be ignored, or complied at its convenience, the Court noticed that although the right to property is not a fundamental right protected under Part III of the Constitution of India, it remains a valuable constitutional right. Though its pre-eminence as a fundamental right has been undermined, nevertheless, the essence of the rule of law protects it.
“The phrasing of Article 300-A is determinative and its resemblance with Articles 21 and 265 cannot be overlooked- they in effect, are a guarantee of the supremacy of the rule of law, no less. To permit the state: whether the Union or any state government to assert that it has an indefinite or overriding right to continue occupying one’s property (bereft of lawful sanction)– whatever be the pretext, is no less than condoning lawlessness.”
It was further stated that any condonation by the court is a validation of such unlawful executive behavior which it then can justify its conduct on the anvil of some loftier purpose, at any future time- aptly described as a “loaded weapon ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward a plausible claim of an urgent need.”
Discussion on facts
Union’s assertion that it had acquired at least some parts of the suit lands was examined by the High Court on two occasions, and in arbitration proceedings under the Requisitioning Act, on three occasions. Each time, the factual findings went against the Union.
“The Union’s occupation ceased to be lawful, with the lapse of the Requisitioning Act, in 1987. Yet, it has implacably refused to hand back possession, each time asserting that it has some manner of rights over it. These facts paint a stark, even sordid picture.”
The Court, hence, held that the impugned judgment of the Karnataka High Court committed an error in refusing relief to the appellants.
- The Union of India is directed to hand back possession of the suit lands to the appellants, within three months.
- It is open to the appellants to seek compensation based on fresh fixation of capital value and recurring annual value, based on the different five- year periods for the last 20 years. Such a claim shall be referred to arbitration, within four weeks of receipt of the reference. The arbitrator shall proceed to pronounce the award within six months of receipt of the reference. This is independent of the Union’s obligation to vacate and hand over peaceful possession of the suit lands within three months.
- The appellants shall be paid costs, quantified at ₹ 75,000/-.
[BK Ravichandra v. Union of India, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 950, decided on 24.11.2020]
*Justice S. Ravindra Bhat has penned this judgment
For Appellant: Senior Advocate Mohan Parasaran
For Respondent: Additional Solicitor General K.M. Natraj