Supreme Court: In a case where the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd. (ONGC) has been continuing with the temporary acquisition of a land in a village falling under Ahmedabad for oil exploration since 1996, the bench of MR Shah* and MM Sundresh, JJ has observed that temporary acquisition cannot be continued for approximately 20 to 25 years.
The Court said,
“Approximately 26 years have passed and still the land in question is under temporary acquisition by the ONGC. If the land is continued to be under temporary acquisition for number of years, meaning and purpose of temporary acquisition would lose its significance.”
In the case at hand, the land in question owned by the appellants has been under temporary acquisition by the ONGC since the year 1996 for the purposes of its oil exploration. However, the land in question was purchased by the first appellant under a registered sale deed dated 15.3.2005, while the land was under temporary acquisition by the ONGC.
It is also worth noting that the land now falls in the city of Ahmedabad and the prices of the land have increased manyfold. The appellants are being paid the annual rent @ Rs. 30/- per square meter per annum as revised.
The ONGC has, however, showed intent to permanently acquire the land in question and in 2018, after the Gujarat High Court disposed of the a writ petition on the submission made on behalf of the ONGC that the land in question shall be acquired permanently, efforts were made to acquire the land under the provisions of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition , Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.
However, due to be the higher value of the land to be paid towards compensation, the Land Acquisition Officer/State Government had put the acquisition on hold.
On 26.04.202, the High Court, granted time to the ONGC and the State to acquire the land in question permanently within twelve months from the date of the impugned order, i.e. on or before 26.04.2023
The Court, at the outset, observed that, as on and from 15.3.2005, the first appellant is the owner of the land in question, he can, hence, question the temporary acquisition if the temporary acquisition has been continued for a long period.
Further, once the land is under temporary acquisition and the same is being used by the ONGC for oil exploration, it may not be possible for the landowners to use the land; to cultivate the same and/or to deal with the same in any manner.
“To continue with the temporary acquisition for number of years would be arbitrary and can be said to be infringing the right to use the property guaranteed under Article 300A of the Constitution of India. Even to continue with the temporary acquisition for a longer period can be said to be unreasonable, infringing the rights of the landowners to deal with and/or use the land.”
However, noticing that a writ of mandamus is already issued by the High Court directing the ONGC to complete the acquisition proceedings on or before 26.04.2023, the Supreme Court has directed that if the land in question is not acquired as per the writ issued by the High Court within a stipulated time, necessary consequence shall follow.
[Manubhai Sendhabhai Bharwad v. Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 63, decided on 20.01.2023]
*Judgment authored by: Justice MR Shah