Land Acquisition| Applying 2-year limitation period as per Section 11A of 1894 Act for passing award in pending cases under Section 24(1)(a) of the 2013 Act impractical: SC 

Supreme Court: In an important ruling on Land Acquisition and Requisition law, the bench of AM Khanwilkar and Sanjiv Khanna*, JJ has held that Section 25 of the 2013 Act applies to awards made under Section 24(1)(a) of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 and the period of limitation of twelve months would commence from 1st January 2014.

“In cases covered by clause (a) to Section 24(1) of the 2013 Act, the limitation period for passing/making of an award under Section 25 of the 2013 Act would commence from 1st January 2014, that is, the date when the 2013 Act came into force. Awards passed under clause (a) to Section 24(1) would be valid if made within twelve months from 1st January 2014.”

Issue

Whether the two-year period specified under Section 11A of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 will apply even after the repeal of the 1894 Act, or the twelve-month period specified in Section 25 of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 will apply for the awards made under clause (a) of Section 24(1) of the 2013 Act?

Discussion

Interpretation of “all the provisions of this Act relating to the determination of compensation” under clause (a) to Section 24(1) of the 2013 Act

Generally, the expression ‘relating to’ when used in legislation has to be construed to give effect to the legislative intent when required and necessary by giving an expansive and wider meaning. Keeping this in mind, the Court noticed that the words “all the provisions of this Act relating to the determination of compensation” must not be imputed a restricted understanding of the word ‘relating’ only to the substantial provisions on calculation of compensation, that is, Sections 26 to 30 of the 2013 Act. Rather, the expression should be given an expansive meaning so as to include the provision on limitation period for calculation of compensation, that is, Section 25 of the 2013 Act.

Further, the said clause would apply only if the period for making of an award had not ended and time was available as on 1st January 2014. Where and if the period for making of the award had already lapsed before 1st January 2014, clause (a) to Section 24(1) would not apply so as to deprive and deny the vested rights which have already accrued in favour of the landowners.

“Section 25 is a rule of procedure immediately following Section 24 and a part of fasciculus of “all the provisions”, from Sections 25 to 30, “relating to determination of compensation”. Hence, the expression “all the provisions relating to the determination of compensation” under the 2013 Act will encompass Section 25 of the 2013 Act.”

The determination of compensation is never simple. It is a complex factual and legal exercise.

Two-year period for making of an award in terms of Section 11A of the 1894 Act – If Practical

Given the object and purpose behind Sections 24, and 26 to 30 of the 2013 Act, the Court noticed that practical absurdities and anomalies may arise if the two-year period for making of an award in terms of Section 11A of the 1894 Act commencing from the date of issue of the declaration is applied to the awards to be made under Section 24(1)(a) of the 2013 Act.

This would mitigate against the underlying legislative intent behind prescription of time for making of an award in respect of saved acquisition proceedings initiated under the repealed 1894 Act, which is two-fold:

  • to give sufficient time to the authorities to determine compensation payable under the 2013 Act; and
  • to ensure early and expedited payment to the landowners by reducing the period from two years under Section 11A of the 1894 Act to twelve months under Section 25 of the 2013 Act.

In case of declarations issued in January 2012, on application of Section 11A of the 1894 Act, the time to determine compensation under the 2013 Act would vary from a day to a month, and while in cases where the declarations were issued within twelve months of the repeal of the 1894 Act, the landowners would be at a disadvantage as an award beyond the twelve-month period specified in Section 25 of the 2013 Act would be valid.

In the first set of cases, given the onerous factual and legal exercise involved in determination of compensation and the need to issue notification under Section 26(2) of the 2013 Act, publication of the awards would be impractical. Hasty and incorrect awards would be deleterious for the landowners.

If the awards are not pronounced, the acquisition proceedings would lapse defeating the legislative intent behind Section 24(1)(a) of the 2013 Act to save such proceedings.

Exercising it’s choice to arrive at a just, fair and harmonious construction consistent with the legislative intent, the Court noticed that a rational approach so as to further the object and purpose of Sections 24 and 26 to 30 of the 2013 Act is required.

“We are conscious that Section 25 refers to publication of a notification under Section 19 as the starting point of limitation. In the context of clause (a) to Section 24(1) of the 2013 Act there would be no notification under Section 19, but declaration under Section 6 of the 1894 Act. When the declarations under Section 6 are valid as on 1st January 2014, it is necessary to give effect to the legislative intention and reckon the starting point. In the context of Section 24(1)(a) of the 2013 Act, declarations under Section 6 of the 1894 Act are no different and serve the same purpose as the declarations under Section 19 of the 2013 Act.”

Conclusion

Consequently, the Court held that in cases covered by clause (a) to Section 24(1) of the 2013 Act, the limitation period for passing/making of an award under Section 25 of the 2013 Act would commence from 1st January 2014, that is, the date when the 2013 Act came into force. Awards passed under clause (a) to Section 24(1) would be valid if made within twelve months from 1st January 2014. This dictum is subject to the caveat stated that a declaration which has lapsed in terms of Section 11A of the 1894 Act before or on 31st December 2013 would not get revived.

(i)Section 25 of the 2013 Act would apply to the awards made and published under Section 24(1)(a) of the 2013 Act.

(ii) The limitation period for passing/making of an award under Section 24(1)(a) in terms of Section 25 of the 2013 Act would commence from 1st January 2014, that is, the date when the 2013 Act came into force.

(iii) Period during which the Court order would inhibit action on the part of the authorities to proceed with the making of the award would be excluded while computing the period under Section 25 of the 2013 Act.

[Executive Engineer, Gosikhurd Project Ambadi, Bhandara, Maharashtra Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation v. Mahesh, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1034, decided on 10.11.02021]


*Judgment by: Justice Sanjiv Khanna

Know Thy Judge | Justice Sanjiv Khanna

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