“Right to property is still a constitutional right under Article 300A of the Constitution”; SC reminds in a case where State took possession of surplus land in absence of surplus land

Supreme Court: The 3-judge Bench comprising of Sanjay Kishan Kaul*, Dinesh Maheshwari and Hrishikesh Roy, JJ., has set aside the impugned order of High Court of judicature at Madhya Pradesh, whereby the High Court had upheld taking over of possession and eviction under MP Land Revenue Code, 1959.

Factual Background

The predecessors of the appellant was bhumiswami of agricultural dry land measuring 64.438 acres situated in Village Bagadua, MP, which was in excess of the ceiling limit prescribed as per S. 7(b) of MP Ceiling on Agricultural Holdings Act, 1960, whereby the prescribed limit was set at 54 acres. Therefore, the competent authority had initiated the process to acquire the surplus land. In furtherance of the aforesaid, the State had initiated the process of taking over possession and eviction under Section 248 of the MP Land Revenue Code, 1959.  The appellant, being aggrieved filed a suit for declaration of title and permanent injunction before the Trial Court.  The appellant contended that the proceedings were illegal as he was actually left with only 54 acres of land which was within the prescribed ceiling limit in view of the fact that the land measuring 17 bighas and 7 biswa had been decreed in favour of one Jenobai, who was in possession by cultivation for about 20 years.

The Trial Court had held that the appellant was the original bhumiswami and the suit with Jenobai was collusive as she was the mother-in-law of the appellant and the endeavour was to prevent the surplus land from being acquired by the State. The appellant filed an appeal before First Appellate Court , which was allowed and the judgment of the trial court was set aside on the ground that the competent authority had failed to comply with the statutory provisions under Section 11(3) and 11(4) of the said Act. However, the said judgment was set aside by the High Court noticing that no information was stated to have been provided to the competent authority giving particulars of the suit of Jenobai. The competent authority was held not to be at fault in the alleged breach of Sections 11(3) and 11(4) of the Act, 1960 as the information germane for the same had not been disclosed.

Observation and Analysis

 Whether the requirement of S. 9 of the Act, 1960 had been fulfilled?

To decide this issue the Court had directed both the parties to submit certain records before it, however, the State had failed to comply with the same. Therefore, it was held that failure to place the aforementioned documents on record showed that there had been proper disclosure about the suit in the return filed under Section 9.  The fact that the respondent had pleaded the suit in question to be collusive was also considered to be a proof that the particulars of the pending civil suit filed by the mother-in-law of the appellant claiming part of the land held by the appellant were submitted before the respondent.

 Whether obtaining of possession was according to the procedure established by law?

According to Section 11(3) of the Act, 1960 the draft statement had to be published and served on the holder and “all other persons interested in the land to which it relates.” Once a disclosure was there that Jenobai had filed a suit, there had to be mandatorily a notice to her, as otherwise any decision would be behind her back and would, thus, violate the principles of natural justice. The Bench observed the proviso to 11(4), which clarified that, in case the competent authority finds that any question has arisen regarding the title of a particular holder, which is already pending for decision before the competent court, the competent authority shall await the decision of the court. Hence, the Court held that proceedings should have been kept in abeyance to await the verdict in the suit and notice should have been issued to Jenobai.  The Bench expressed,

“Right to property is still a constitutional right under Article 300A of the Constitution of India though not a fundamental right. The deprivation of the right can only be in accordance with the procedure established by law.”

 The law in this case was the said Act. Thus, the provisions of the said Act had to be complied with to deprive a person of the land being surplus. It was further stated that, once a disclosure was made, the matter had to be dealt with under sub-section (4) of Section 11 of the said Act and in view of the pending suit proceedings between the appellant and Jenobai, the proviso came into play which required the respondent authorities to await the decision of the court. Sub-section 5 and thereafter sub-section 6 would kick in only after the mandate of subsection 4 was fulfilled.

Though there may be a process provided for redressal under the scheme of the Act, it is this very scheme of the Act which has been breached by the respondents herein in not complying with the statutory provisions.

Whether Jurisdiction of Civil Court is barred?

 Regarding the issue of jurisdiction of civil court the Bench analysed Section 46 of the Act, 1960, which reads as under:

46. Bar of jurisdiction of Civil Courts. – Save as expressly provided in this Act, no Civil Court shall have any jurisdiction to settle, decide or deal with any question which is by or under this Act required to be settled, decided or dealt with by the competent authority.”

Noticing that Section 46 begins with a saving clause qua the bar of civil court – “Save as expressly provided in this Act…..” the Bench held that, provisions of Section 46 were expressly subjected to the provisions of Section 11(5). Reliance was placed on   Competent Authority, Tarana District, Ujjain (M.P.) v. Vijay Gupta, 1991 Supp (2) SCC 631, by the Bench, wherein, while deciding the question of jurisdiction of Civil Court, the Court had expressed,

“So far as the other question regarding the maintainability of the suit in a civil court is concerned, suffice to say that sub-section (5) of Section 11 of the Act itself provides that any party may within three months from the date of any order passed by the Competent Authority under sub-section (4) of Section 11 of the Act institute a suit in the civil court to have the order set aside. Thus the above provision itself permits the filing of a suit in a civil court and any decision of such court has been made binding on the Competent Authority under the above provision of sub-section (5) of Section 11 of the Act. It is not in dispute that the suit in the present case was filed within three months as provided under sub-section (5) of Section 11 of the Act. In the result, we do not find any force in this appeal and it is accordingly dismissed with no order as to costs.”

Decision

Considering the above mentioned, the Bench held that when there was no surplus land there could be no question of any proceedings for take over of the surplus land under the said Act. Hence, the impugned order was set and the order of the first appellate court was restored. [Bajranga v. State of Madhya Pradesh,  2021 SCC OnLine SC 27, decided on 19-01-2021]


*Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul has penned this judgment


Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this story together

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