“Government cannot acquire its own land”. Proceedings under LA Act, 1894 cannot be reopened once the possession has been transferred: SC

Supreme Court: In an interesting case regarding land acquisition by government of Assam for setting up a plastic park, the Division Bench of S. Abdul Nazeer* and Sanjiv Khanna had held,

“Once the award has been approved, compensation has been paid and possession of the land has been handed over to the Government, acquisition proceedings could not have been reopened, including by way of re-notification of the already acquired land under Section 4 of Land Acquisition Act, 1894.”

Assam Industrial Development Corporation Limited (AIDC) had filed this appeal against the order of Guwahati High Court for the determination of question, whether an award in respect of the first respondent’s land was approved by the Government on 05-03-2010 or the approval was for the estimate only?

Initial Proceedings for Acquisition

In order to set up a plastic park, the Government of Assam decided to acquire a portion of land belonging to the respondent situated at Gillapukri Tea Estate. The Government, in exercise of the power under Section 4 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 issued a notification dated 04-08-2008, expressing its intention to acquire 1,166 biggas, 1katha, 14 lessas of land. The Deputy Commissioner and Collector, addressed a letter dated 30-01-2010 to the Government to seek approval of the award and the land acquisition to which the government addressed a letter dated 05-03-2010 to the Deputy Commissioner whereby approval, as sought was granted.

Initiation of Fresh Proceedings

The respondent contended that pursuant to the letter dated 05-03-2010 only the land acquisition estimate was approved and not the award. Therefore, the respondent contended, it led to lapsing of the proceedings and initiation of fresh acquisition proceedings on 21-07-2012 which culminated in approval of the award for the first time in 2014. On 04-01-2014, a fresh award was passed and the respondent argued that since the award under the fresh proceedings was approved and made after coming into force of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, he was entitled for compensation in terms of Section 24(1) (a) of the 2013 Act.

Analysis by Court

Award was approved by the government on 05-03-2010 and that the same had been paid within two years of declaration. Pursuant to the award, possession of the land was taken from the respondent by the acquiring authority and the land was then handed over to the appellant. The Bench observed that entire compensation had been paid to the respondent and as contended by government,

Need for an additional award arose only because some of the land owners of the land initially proposed to be acquired were left out in the original award that was approved on 05-03-2010.

Noticing that not only did the respondent receive compensation pursuant to the award, it in fact sought enhancement of the same vide its reassessment petition dated 05-05-2010 u/s 18 of the L.A. Act the Bench said, letters dated 21-07-2012 and 06-01-2014 could not have the effect of re-acquiring the land in question since it already stood vested in the State Government. A combined reading of letter dated 05-03-2010 with the preceding letter dated 30-01-2010 and the subsequent conduct of the parties, including the respondent, made it evident that the award stood approved on the said date.

In D. Hanumanth SA v. State of Karnataka, (2010) 10 SCC 656 , it was held, “if land already stands acquired by the Government and if the same stands vested in the Government there is no question of acquisition of such a land by issuing a second notification for the Government cannot acquire its own land”. Hence, considering the subsequent actions of the parties, viz. payment and receipt of compensation, handover of possession, seeking reassessment of the compensation and the fact that the plastic project for which the subject Land Acquisition was initiated had already been developed on the acquired land, the Bench held,

“Once the land stood vested in the State, it could not have been acquired again. Therefore, any issuance of fresh notification under Section 4 and 6 or even preparing of a fresh award by the State Government in respect of the first respondent’s land would be infructuous.”

In view of the above, the impugned order of the High Court was set aside.
[Assam Industrial Development Corp. Ltd. v. Gillapukri Tea Co. Ltd., 2021 SCC OnLine SC 44, decided on 28-01-2021]


Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this story together 

*Justice SA Nazeer has penned this judgment 

Know Thy Judge | Justice S. Abdul Nazeer

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