Allahabad High Court says larger public interest overrides private interest in land acquisition case

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Allahabad-High-Court

The Allahabad High Court has said that private interest cannot prevail over the larger public interest while hearing a petition against land acquisition.

The Division Bench of Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal and Justice Piyush Agrawal passed this order while hearing a petition filed by Prabha Shukla. The petitioner has filed the petition praying for quashing of notification dated April 06, 2021 issued under Section 11 of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, as published in newspaper on April 24, 2021 and notification dated July 16, 2021 issued under Section 19 of the 2013 Act.

The counsel for the petitioner submitted that the petitioner is the owner and is in possession of a plot measuring 0.0688 hectare. The same is being utilized for agricultural purposes. However, of late, she intended to construct a house for residential purposes, for which pillars have been raised as foundation. For the purpose of acquisition of aforesaid land, notification under Section 11 of 2013 Act was issued on April 06, 2021. The land was sought to be acquired for the purpose of construction of a Railway over-bridge. The total area sought to be acquired was 0.5344 hectare.

The petitioner filed objections to the aforesaid acquisition on May 26, 2021. However, without affording the opportunity of hearing to the petitioner and also violating the mandate of Section 19(2) of the 2013 Act, notification under Section 19 was issued.

Section 15 of the 2013 Act clearly provides that in case any objection is filed to the proposed acquisition of land, the aggrieved parties have to be afforded the opportunity of personal hearing. Section 19(2) of the 2013 Act provides that rehabilitation schemes have to be published for the persons, who may be displaced.

The counsel for the petitioner referred to a notification issued under Section 19 of 2013 Act, which mentions that as per the survey carried out, none of the land owner is required to be rehabilitated, whereas the case set up by the petitioner was that number of families will be displaced, hence, rehabilitation scheme was required. The petitioner has a family of five persons. Unless the rehabilitation scheme is published, final notification under Section 19 of the 2013 Act for the acquisition of the land could not be issued.

The further argument raised is that the Collector is not the final authority to dispose of the objection. He has to merely send his report to the appropriate Government to take a final decision thereon.

On the other hand, counsel appearing for the State submitted that the acquisition is for a total area of 0.5344 hectare of land. As per survey carried out, minimum possible land was acquired for construction of railway over-bridge, which is required to take care of traffic problems on the spot. It is to facilitate the people of the area and is in larger public interest. As should be the normal attitude, the development activities are not opposed by the inhabitants of the area when they are appropriately compensated.

This happened in the case also as none of the other owners objected to the acquisition. It was only the petitioner, who raised objection and the same was considered and with the opinion of the Collector, the entire record was sent to the Government, which finally issued the notification. It shows that there was proper application of mind by the appropriate Government before issuance of the notification under Section 19 of the 2013 Act.

He further submitted that it is admitted in the case of the petitioner herself that the plot in question, which is a small portion of the total land acquired, was merely being used for agricultural purposes. It is proposed to be used for residential purposes. However, there was no house existing thereon. Thus, it is not a case where a petitioner or her family members are required to be rehabilitated as they already have a residence. Merely on account of some small discrepancy, if any, in the process of acquisition, where the same is not opposed to by 90% of the land owners, the acquisition proceedings should not be quashed as the entire project, which is being executed in large public interest, will be put to a halt.

He further submitted that the award of the entire land was announced by the Collector on September 13, 2021 except the land of the petitioner, as there was interim stay granted by this Court. The total cost of the project is about ₹ 38 crore. The project is expected to be completed in March, 2022. About 45% of the work has already been executed. Any interference by the Court at this stage in the petition filed by the petitioner will put the project on hold as a result whereof the entire amount spent on the project will go waste and it will be delayed unnecessarily.

It is not the stage where even the alignment can be changed as the land on the site, except a small portion for which petitioner has raised a dispute, already stands acquired. The over-bridge is connected on both sides with the road.

Land of the petitioner was also lying vacant except that she claims that certain pillars of the foundation had been raised for construction of a house. But the fact is that no one was residing there.

Counsel appearing for respondents submitted that the construction of the over-bridge has already started. The pillars on the Karchhana side have already been erected upto the required height till the railway line. However, the side on which the land of the petitioner is located, pillars are yet to be raised.

“In the case in hand, respondents’ stand is that 45 per cent work of railway over-bridge is already complete. On one side pillars have been erected whereas on the other side, where the land of the petitioner is situated, the same are yet to be erected. She otherwise owns a small portion, i.e, about 10 % of the total acquired land, which at present, is lying vacant, though it is claimed that the petitioner sought to construct a house thereon for residential purposes. From the photographs placed on record it is evident that there exist certain pillars, that too only upto ground level,” the court noted.

“Once a project of public importance, which is good in larger public interest, is being executed and has been completed about 45%, setting aside of acquisition in a petition filed by one of the land owners owning a small portion of the land, will not be in larger public interest. It is not the stage where alignment of the over-bridge can be changed which otherwise could not have been possible as the railway over-bridge will be connecting the existing roads on both the sides. Private interest has to give way to the larger public interest. Even if there are some small discrepancies in the process of acquisition, in our opinion in the facts of the case, the acquisition does not deserve to be set aside as otherwise the project will be delayed which will cause loss to the State besides suffering to the residents of the area, who may be deprived of using the railway over-bridge on account of delayed completion of the project.”

“In any case, the petitioner will be duly compensated for the land owned by her,” the Court said and dismissed the petition finding it lacking merit.