New Delhi, March 3: The Supreme Court has ruled that land acquisition proceedings are deemed to have lapsed if the government fails to compensate landowners or take possession of acquired land within two years.
The court said if the government was keen on retaining the acquired land, it must re-initiate acquisition proceedings as provided under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.
A bench of Justices Vikramjit Sen and Shiv Kirti Singh passed the order while dismissing a Delhi government appeal challenging the quashing of its acquisition proceedings relating to some agricultural land in Rajivnagar Extension on the outskirts of the capital.
The court said Section 24(2) of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, was clear that if acquisition proceedings were not followed by payment of compensation or possession, the acquisition lapses.
Writing the judgment, Justice Vikramjit Sen said the following conditions should always be considered to determine if the acquisition proceedings had lapsed or not.
"First, the factum of an Award under Section 11 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, must be clearly established. The said Award must predate the commencement of the Act, i.e. 01.01.2014 (2013 Act) by at least five years or more i.e. the Award must have been passed on or before 1.01.2009. This having been established, if possession is found to not have been taken, or compensation not paid, then the proceedings shall be deemed to have lapsed.
"Thereafter, the appropriate government, if it so chooses, may re-initiate acquisition proceedings in respect of the same land, but under the 2013 Act's regime," Justice Sen said.
In this case, the land was acquired in 2000 but possession was not taken. So, the landowners moved Delhi High Court, which quashed the acquisition proceedings. After that, the state moved the apex court.
Upholding the high court's decision, the bench said: "Each and every deeming operation under Section 24(2) requires unambiguously and unvaryingly that a factual conclusion be drawn about the passing of the Award under Section 11, of the 1894 Act, on or before 01.01.2009; further, the absence of compensation having been paid or the absence of possession having been taken by the acquirer, either of these, must be a proven point of fact, as a threshold requirement attracting the lapse."
The apex court rejected the government's argument that the acquisition proceedings were delayed because the matter was pending in Delhi High Court, hence the acquisition could not be invalidated.
"The right conferred to the landholders/owners of the acquired land under Section 24(2) of the Act is the statutory right and, therefore, the said right cannot be taken away," the bench said, citing an earlier ruling of the apex court in the Radiance Fincap (P) Ltd. v. Union of India & Ors (2011 case).