Kerala High Court: The Division Bench of C. T. Ravikumar and K. Haripal, JJ., partly allowed the instant petition filed under Section 37 of Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996.

The grievances of the appellant were that, 0.0336 hectares of land owned and possessed by him was acquired by the Nation Highway Authority (NHA) for the purpose of developing National Highway-47. The Special Land Acquisition Officer had fixed the compensation at the rate of Rs 2,14,000 per Are, thereby the appellant was awarded total compensation of Rs 7,19,040. Aggrieved by the same, the appellant filed an arbitration petition under Section 3(c) (5) of the National Highways Act seeking enhancement of compensation.

The District Collector being the Arbitrator, enhanced the land value to Rs 5,88,000 per Are, i.e. at Rs 2,38,057 per cent. The Arbitrator, after considering the report of the District level Arbitral Committee appointed under Section 27(1)(a) of the Act, enhanced the compensation and fixed it at Rs 12,56,640.

The appellant again challenged the award before the District Court. The Court, while observing the constraints under Section 34 of the Act, stated that,

An award of the Arbitrator could be challenged only on the grounds enumerated in Section 34 of the Act and it could not be set aside merely on the ground that compensation awarded was insufficient.

The Bench though concurred with the findings of lower Court, observed that in arbitral award no amount was paid towards solatium or interest thereon. Reliance was placed by the Court on the judgment of Supreme Court in Union of India v. Tarsem Singh, (2019) 9 SCC 304, wherein, the Court had declared that the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act relating to solatium and interest contained in Section 23(1A) and (2) and interest payable in terms of proviso to Section 28 would apply to acquisitions made under the National Highways Act and had held Section 3J of the National Highways Act violative of Article 14 of the Constitution and declared it unconstitutional.

Thus, the Court while relying on Tarsem Singh case said that the verdict of Supreme Court in the said case had become the law of the land under Article 141 of the Constitution. Therefore, even in the absence of specific plea or proof, the appellant would be entitled to get solatium and interest on solatium as provided in Section 23(1A) and (2) and interest in terms of proviso to Section 28 of the Land Acquisition Act. [V.M. Mathew v. National Highway Authority of India,  2021 SCC OnLine Ker 387, decided on 25-01-2021]

Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this story together

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