The Authors have addressed this issue in four parts. Part I gives a historical background of the situation that has culminated presently- the entrance of the new law governing land acquisition. Part II deals with the new law and its retrospective application provision. Part III throws light on the interpretation of the ambiguity with respect to the term period of the retrospective application. Part IV finally analyzes the various decisions and draws a conclusion.
Historical Back ground
The Supreme Court of India in the case Ramji Veerji Patel & Ors1. v. Revenue Divisional Officer& Ors., in relation to Land Acquisition Act, 1894 ("old Act") observed:
Hence, the old Act was replaced and substituted by the new law, i.e. The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 ("the 2013 Act") which governs Land Acquisition throughout the country. Clause 18 of the objects of the 2013 Act provides that
Thus, the object of the Act seems to be clear that it will benefit the land owners who are suffering because of the delay on part of the government in providing compensation to the land owners.
Retrospective Application : Provisions under the 2013 Act
Section 24(1) of the 2013 Act provides that the Act will not be applicable in cases where an award has been made under section 11 of the old Act. Further, section 24(2) of the 2013 Act starts with a non-obstante clause and provides-
"Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-section (1), in case of land acquisition proceedings initiated under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, where an award under the said section 11 has been made five years or more prior to the commencement of this Act but the physical possession of the land has not been taken or the compensation has not been paid the said proceedings shall be deemed to have lapsed and the appropriate Government, if it so chooses, shall initiate the proceedings of such land acquisition afresh in accordance with the provisions of this Act:
Provided that where an award has been made and compensation in respect of a majority of land holding has not been deposited in the account of the beneficiaries, then, all beneficiaries specified in the notification for acquisition under section 4 of the said Land Acquisition Act, shall be entitled to compensation in accordance with the provisions of this Act."
Hence, the benefit under the provisions of the 2013 Act as per the above-stated statutory provision is being given in the cases wherein the award has been made under the provisions of the old Act five years (5) or more prior to the commencement of the 2013 Act (i.e. on or before 01.01.2009) but the compensation has not been paid or the physical possession of the property has not been taken.
In the recent case Delhi Development Authority v. Sukhbir Singh & Ors2, the Hon'ble Supreme Court has granted the benefit of sec. 24(2) of the 2013 Act to the land owners, as the award under section 11 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 was passed in the year 1997, i.e., prior to 01.01.2009.
The Hon'ble Supreme Court, while deciding above mentioned case, has found that it is squarely covered by the ratio of another Supreme Court judgement, i.e Pune Municipal Corporation v. H.M. Solanki3. In Pune Municipal Corporation case, the date of award passed under section 11 of the Land Acquisiton Act, 1894 was 31.01.2008, i.e. prior to 01.01.2009
Conditions for availing the benefit of section 24(2) of the 2013 was noted in the case of Delhi Development Authority:
- Land Acquisition should have been initiated under Land Acquisition Act, 1894;
- 2. Award under Section 11 should have been made 5 years or more prior to the commencement of the 2013 Act, i.e. award should have been made on or before 01.01.2009;
- 3. Physical possession has not been taken or the compensation has not been paid.
However, the issue which remains contentious is the interpretation of 5 year period, i.e. whether the abovestated provision will benefit the land losers, whose lands have been acquired after 01.01.2009. Till date there is no precedent of any court which provides clarity over this issue.
Interpretation of the term period
Liberal Interpretation of 5-year term
The Government of India on the basis of the Solicitor General's opinion came out with a circular which clarified the position with respect to interpretation of section 24(2) of the Act. The said circular states that a landowner becomes eligible to the benefit available under sec. 24 (2) of the Act in cases where the award under section 11 of the 1894 Act is passed after 01.01.2009 and the period of 5 years has not lapsed from the date of passing of this award and the date of commencement of this Act and if the said period of 5 years gets lapsed on any date after the commencement of the Act and the compensation is not paid till such date.
Further the Hon'ble Supreme Court in numerous instances including cases, Union of India v. Shiv Raj & Ors4. and Ram Kishan & Ors .v. State of Haryana & Ors5. has considered the above said circular of Government of India while deciding the cases. In Delhi Development Authority case, court while explaining the object of s. 24(2) observed:
As per the liberal interpretation and keeping in mind clause 18 of the objects of the 2013 Act, it seems clear that the benefit of section 24 (2) must be given to the land loser whose land have been acquired by an award passed under the old Act after 01.01.2009, i.e. within 5 years of the commencement of the 2013 Act.
Strict Interpretation of 5 year term
In M/s Competent Automobiles Limited v. UOI & Ors.6 (Civil Appeal No. 5054 of 2008), the apex court observed,
Further, the Hon'ble Supreme Court in case of Ratan Singh v. UOI & Ors7, reiterated the same.
In case of Athena Demwe Power Limited8 of the Hon'ble Gauhati High Court while considering the fact that the award in question was passed on 11-5-2012, while possession was taken on 22-6-2012. Thus it does not satisfy the test of sec. 24(2), as the award was made after 01.01.2009. Thus, Court while allowing the appeal on behalf of the appellant-company, on whose behalf, the lands were acquired held that "this section cannot obviously deal with a situation if the award is passed within five years of the commencement of the Act of 2013."
However, the question which remains unanswered is the incidence of the said Provision in cases where the award is passed within 5 years of the commencement of the 2013 Act and the possession has not been taken or the compensation for such acquisition has not been paid even after the expiry of 5 year period from passing of such award.
The decisions of the Hon'ble Apex Court cited above have created confusion with regard to applicability of section 24(2) in cases where the award under Sec. 11 of 1894 Act has been passed after 01.01.2009 and the compensation has not been paid even after 5 years. As per the strict interpretation of the 5 year period, as envisaged under Section 24(2) of the 2013 Act, the land losers whose lands have been acquired by an award passed under the old Act after 01.01.2009 and the compensation has not been paid till date shall be kept devoid of the benefits of the 2013 Act, while the same benefit shall be given to the land losers whose lands have been acquired by an award passed under the old Act on or before 01.01.2009. It is well settled principle under the law that a beneficial piece of legislation has to be given a liberal interpretation. Hence, there exists a need that the apex court must step in and give a liberal interpretation with regard to interpretation of `5 year period' under section 24(2). Hence, the land losers whose lands have been acquired after 01.01.2009 should be accorded with the benefits under the 2013 Act.
3. AIR 2014 SC 982
4. (2014) 6 SCC 564
5. (2015) 4 SCC 347
6. AIR 2015 SC 3186
7. Civil Appeal No. 2852 OF 2009
8. W.A. No. 175 of 2015
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