Kerala High Court: The Division Bench of C.T. Ravikumar and K. Haripal, JJ., partially allowed the instant appeal challenging the correctness of the orders of the District Judge whereby the District Judge had declined to interfere with the arbitral award.

Properties of the appellants were acquired by the National Highway Authority for the purpose of widening the Valayar-Vadakkanchery sector of NH 47 under a common notification and compensation was awarded by the Special Land Acquisition Officer. Special Land Acquisition Officer had granted a total compensation of Rs 2,65,252 to appellant 1 on the basis of comparable sales method while compensation of Rs 3,37,337 was awarded to the appellant 2. Being dissatisfied with quantum of compensation, the appellants invoked the arbitration clause. The arbitrator granted an additional compensation of Rs 1,04,449 as an enhancement, besides 9% interest on the enhanced amount from the date of dispossession to appellant 1 and an enhancement of Rs 1,67,215 and 9% interest on the additional compensation was granted to appellant 2. On being aggrieved by the order of the arbitrator, the appellants moved the District Court under Section 34 of the Arbitration Act. Later on, the instant appeal was filed against the order of District Judge.

The appellants contended that, the claims made were not properly considered by the Special Land Acquisition Officer and the Arbitrator, therefore, in order to prove the prevailing market value of the land and for quantifying the other damage suffered by them, they might be afforded one more opportunity and the matters might be remanded, enabling them to adduce further evidence.  The appellants argued that they had not been granted solatium and interest on solatium, which they were entitled to as per the decision in Paul Mani v. Special Deputy Collector and Competent Authority, 2019 SCC OnLine Ker 2700.

The Court observed, the argument of appellants that the claims were not considered by the authorities properly was factually incorrect as it was obvious from the orders passed by the Arbitrator, that even in the absence of the appellants producing supporting documents or proof, the Arbitrator had taken into consideration post-notification developments while granting enhancement in land value as well as the value of structures. As mentioned earlier, the Arbitrator had granted enhancement in compensation under all possible heads, making good the loss sustained by the appellants. The Court said, “It is the settled proposition of law that matters cannot be remanded back to the authority below in order to decide any question of fact which was not properly pleaded and no evidence was let in by the parties in support of the claim.” While reiterating settled proposition of law the Court said, having regard to the scope and ambit of Section 34 of the Arbitration Act that Court’s power is merely supervisory in nature and the Court cannot act as though exercising the appellate jurisdiction. The Court also expressed that, no power had been invested by the Parliament in the Court to remand the matter to the arbitral tribunal. Therefore, the demand for remitting the case back to the arbitrator was denied. On the contention of non-payment of solatium, the court relied on Union of India and Another v. Tarsem Singh, (2019) 9 SCC 304, wherein the Supreme Court had held, the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act 1894, relating to solatium and interest contained in Section 23(1A) and (2) and interest payable in terms of the proviso to Section 28 will apply to acquisitions made under the National Highways Act.

In view of the above, it was held that even in the absence of specific plea or proof, the appellants were entitled to claim solatium and interest on solatium under Section 23(1A) and (2) and interest in terms of the proviso to Section 28 of the Land Acquisition Act and the respondents were directed to quantify the amounts of solatium accordingly. [Eliyamma v. Deputy Collector, 2021 SCC OnLine Ker 80, decided on 07-01-2021]

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