Case BriefsSupreme Court (Constitution Benches)

Supreme Court: In a landmark ruling the 5-judge bench of Arun Mishra, Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, MR Shah, and Ravindra Bhat, JJ has unanimously held that the land owners who had refused to accept compensation or who sought reference for higher compensation, cannot claim that the acquisition proceedings had lapsed under Section 24(2) of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (Land Acquisition Act, 2013).

The bench also held that under the provisions of Section 24(1)(a) of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, in case the award is not made as on 1.1.2014, the date of commencement of Act of 2013, there is no lapse of proceedings. Compensation has to be determined under the provisions of Act of 2013.

Giving elaborate explanation to the provision under Section 24 of the Land Acquisition Act, 2013, the Court, further, held,

  • In case the award has been passed within the window period of five years excluding the period covered by an interim order of the court, then proceedings shall continue as provided under Section 24(1)(b) of the Act of 2013 under the Act of 1894 as if it has not been repealed.
  • The word ‘or’ used in Section 24(2) between possession and compensation has to be read as ‘nor’ or as ‘and’. The deemed lapse of land acquisition proceedings under Section 24(2) of the Act of 2013 takes place where due to inaction of authorities for five years or more prior to commencement of the said Act, the possession of land has not been taken nor compensation has been paid.

“in case possession has been taken, compensation has not been paid then there is no lapse. Similarly, if compensation has been paid, possession has not been taken then there is no lapse.”

  • The expression ‘paid’ in the main part of Section 24(2) of the Act of 2013 does not include a deposit of compensation in court.

“Non-deposit of compensation (in court) does not result in the lapse of land acquisition proceedings. In case of non-deposit with respect to the majority of holdings for five years or more, compensation under the Act of 2013 has to be paid to the “landowners” as on the date of notification for land acquisition under Section 4 of the Act of 1894.”

  • In case a person has been tendered the compensation as provided under Section 31(1) of the Act of 1894, it is not open to him to claim that acquisition has lapsed under Section 24(2) due to non-payment or non-deposit of compensation in court. The obligation to pay is complete by tendering the amount under Section 31(1).
  • The proviso to Section 24(2) of the Act of 2013 is to be treated as part of Section 24(2) not part of Section 24(1)(b).
  • The mode of taking possession under the Act of 1894 and as contemplated under Section 24(2) is by drawing of inquest report/ memorandum. Once award has been passed on taking possession under Section 16 of the Act of 1894, the land vests in State there is no divesting provided under Section 24(2) of the Act of 2013, as once possession has been taken there is no lapse under Section 24(2).
  • The provisions of Section 24(2) providing for a deemed lapse of proceedings are applicable in case authorities have failed due to their inaction to take possession and pay compensation for five years or more before the Act of 2013 came into force, in a proceeding for land acquisition pending with concerned authority as on 1.1.2014. The period of subsistence of interim orders passed by court has to be excluded in the computation of five years.
  • Section 24(2) of the Act of 2013 does not give rise to new cause of action to question the legality of concluded proceedings of land 319 acquisition. Section 24 applies to a proceeding pending on the date of enforcement of the Act of 2013, i.e., 1.1.2014. It does not revive stale and time-barred claims and does not reopen concluded proceedings nor allow landowners to question the legality of mode of taking possession to reopen proceedings or mode of deposit of compensation in the treasury instead of court to invalidate acquisition.

Last year, Justice Arun Mishra, heading the Bench, had refused to recuse himself from hearing the case and had said,

“I would be committing a grave blunder by recusal in the circumstances, on the grounds prayed for, and posterity will not forgive me down the line for setting a bad precedent. It is only for the interest of the judiciary (which is supreme) and the system (which is nulli secundus) that has compelled me not to recuse.”

Justice Mishra’s recusal was sought on the ground that he was heading a Bench meant to re-examine a judgment that he had himself given in 2018 in in Indore Development Authority v. Shailendra, (2018) 3 SCC 412. 

He, however, said that if recusal is made, it would tantamount to giving room to unscrupulous litigant to have a Judge of their choice who can share the views which are to be canvassed by them. The plea cannot be termed anything other than Bench hunting, if it is said that until and unless the one which suits a litigant is found the matters are not to be argued.

[Indore Development Authority v. Manohar Lal Sharma, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 316, decided on 06.03.2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Himachal Pradesh High Court: Jyotsna Rewal Dua, J., partly allowed an appeal and declared that insurance company does not have the right to absolve itself from payment of compensation in absence of valid registration number.

In the present case, due to rash and negligent driving of respondent, an individual named Shri Ram Krishan died on the spot and the other passengers suffered injuries. The family members of the deceased filed for a claim petition under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 (‘Act’). The Learned Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal had awarded the claimants a compensation amount and the respondents did not challenge the award hence the award was pronounced ex parte. The tribunal had taken note of the fact that the driver was carrying a valid driving license at the time of the accident and thereby directed the insurance company to satisfy the award fastened upon the insured. The Insurance Company had submitted a reply stating that the vehicle did not have a registration certificate at the time of the accident; thereby the company shall be absolved from the onus of payment of compensation amount due to violation of the insurance policy. However, the issue was not argued before in the lower court and thus due to the issue involving questions of law and evidence the High Court has dealt the matter at length.

The counsel representing the appellant/Insurance Company, Jagdish Thakur submitted that the vehicle was unregistered according to the Chapter IV of the Act thus they were not liable to discharge the compensation amount as awarded by the Tribunal. The appellant placed reliance on Narinder Singh v. New India Assurance Company Ltd., (2014) 9 SCC 324 in support of his argument that plying of vehicle without valid registration number amounts to a fundamental breach in policy. The appellant had also questioned the computation of the award, stating that there were no documentary evidences to the income of the deceased and thus the learned tribunal erred in assuming the income.

The counsel representing the respondents, G.S. Palsra contended on this point that the precedent referred to by the appellants shall not be applicable in the present case due to the present matter dealing with third party liability.

The High Court upon perusal of the impugned judgment, award and the evidences produced, stated that an Insurance Company cannot exonerate itself from its duty to pay the compensation amount simply because the vehicle did not bear a permanent registration number in the cases of third-party liability. The Court stated that the Supreme Court decision in Narinder Singh dealt with cases of claims made by the owner of the vehicle, whereas the present case dealt with claimants being the dependents of the deceased-third party. It pointed out that “when the vehicle was insured towards third party liability, it was done so on the basis of engine number and chassis number. These numbers were duly mentioned in the insurance policy. The insurance is a contract between the insured and the insurer. It was not insured on the basis of temporary registration number or the permanent registration number.” The Court also noted that there was no connection between the cause of the accident and the registration/non-registration of the vehicle. However, placing reliance on the decisions in Shamanna v. Oriental Insurance Co. Ltd., (2018) 9 SCC 650 and Amrit Paul Singh v. TATA AIG General Insurance Co., (2018) 7 SCC 558, the present bench stated that the Insurance company can recover the compensation amount from the insured through the principle of “pay and recover” as laid down in the above precedents.   With regard to the issue of income of the deceased, the Court, due to lack of evidence, took into consideration the minimum wages of the year of the accident and accordingly delivered the calculation.[National Insurance Company Ltd. v. Kamal Kishore, 2019 SCC OnLine HP 932, decided on 05-07-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Allahabad High Court: A Single Judge Bench comprising of Ashwani Kumar Mishra, J., allowed a writ petition directed against the order passed by the Additional Superintendent of Police, whereby payment of compensation consequent upon the death of petitioner’s husband was rejected.

Husband of the petitioner was a Sepoy in 36 Rashtriya Rifle (Garhwal Rifle), Indian Army. He was posted in Gurez Sector, J&K. On the fateful day, the deceased was travelling in the army truck which fell in a gorge, resulting in his unfortunate death. The petitioner moved an application for grant of compensation in terms of the policy framed by the State. The claim of the petitioner was rejected vide the impugned order, on the ground that death of the petitioner’s husband was not caused during the course of employment.

The High Court perused the said policy of the State, and after considering the facts, held that the impugned order was liable to be dismissed. It was held that the petitioner’s claim was covered under the Government Order that contained the said policy. It was an undisputed fact that the deceased was travelling in army truck while on duty, which fell in the gorge. The deceased was posted at the place where the accident happened. The Court held that the deceased was a serving soldier who died while on duty. In such circumstances, it was not justified to hold that petitioner’s claim was not covered under the said policy. Accordingly, the impugned order was set aside and the respondent was directed to pass a fresh order on the petitioner’s application. [Dimple Yadav v. State of U.P.,2018 SCC OnLine All 1018, dated 18-07-2018]