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Condonation Of Delay Cannot Be Claimed On The Ground Of Subsequent Change In Law: Supreme Court

Ifrah Murtaza ,
  04 July 2024       Share Bookmark

Court :
Hon’ble Supreme Court of India
Brief :

Citation :
Civil Appeal No. xx of 2024

Case title:

Delhi Development Authority v. Tejpal & Ors

Date of Order:

17th May 2024

Bench:

Hon’ble Mr. Justice Surya Kant

Hon’ble Mr. Justice Dipankar Datta

Hon’ble Mr. Justice Ujjal Bhuyan

Parties:

Appellant(s): Delhi Development Authority

Respondent(s): Tejpal & Ors

SUBJECT:

The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India (hereinafter referred to as the ‘Supreme Court’ or ‘the Court’) dealt with a matter revolving around the interpretation and application of section 24(2) of the Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act of 2013 which was concerned with the lapsing of land acquisition proceedings, initiated under the land acquisition Act of 1894 because of non-payment of compensation or failure to take possession. The instant case also explores the implications of the subsequent changes in the law on rules and schedules governing the land acquisition proceedings, affecting various stakeholders including government entities and affected landowners in Delhi.

IMPORTANTROVISIONS:

The Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (2013 Act):

  • Section 24
  • Section 13
  • Section 14
  • Section 16
  • Section 20
  • Section 15
  • Section 28
  • Section 29

The Land Acquisition Act, 1894 (1894 Act):

  • Section 4
  • Section 6
  • Section 11
  • Section 31
  • Section 55
  • Section 18

The Constitution of India:

  • Article 142

The Limitation Act, 1963:

  • Section 3
  • Section 5
  • Section 17

OVERVIEW:

  • The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD) initiated land acquisition under the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 for development projects like residential schemes, industrial areas, flyovers, and the Delhi Metro Expansion.
  • The acquisition involved entities like the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), Delhi State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation (DSIIDC), Delhi Metro Rail Corporation Ltd. (DMRC) among others. 
  • Notifications were issued for acquiring these lands under sections 4 & 6 and awards were passed under Section 11 of the 1894 Act, affixing compensation, over the span of 1957-2006. 
  • In several instances, landowners did not come forward to receive the compensation and the same was deposited in the treasury. While in other instances possession could not be taken by authorities because landowners had challenged the acquisition in Court, obtaining stay orders and halting the process. 
  • In the meantime, the Parliament enacted the 2013 Act, repealing the 1894 Act, which introduced more stringent requirements for compensation and rehabilitation. Specifically, Section 24(2) of the 2013 Act wherein it provides that if the compensations have not been paid or possession is not taken, the acquisition proceedings will be deemed to have lapsed. 
  • The affected landowners thereby have approached the High Court and sought declarations that due to non-compliance with the requirements of section s24(2) of the 2013 Act, the acquisition proceedings had lapsed. 
  • Referring to the precedents in Pune Municipal Corporation v. Harak Chand Misirimal Solanki and Sree Balaji Nagar Residential Association v. State of Tamil Nadu, the High Court held that the acquisition proceedings had lapsed, and ruled in favour of the landowners. 
  • The aggrieved have now approached the Supreme Court, contesting the High Court’s order that their cases should be considered on account of the updated legal position. 

ISSUES RAISED:

  • Whether delay should be condoned in present cases?

ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE APPELLANT(S):

  • As the Supreme Court rulings have significantly changed the legal interpretations of section 24(2) of the 2013 Act, the changes provide the appellants with sufficient cause for delay in filing the appeals, as the previous interpretations had been overruled. 
  • Special considerations should be granted to government authorities for the delays on account of the complex, bureaucratic nature of the governmental decision-making processes. 
  • Land acquisition was meant for development projects for the public which is essential for the planned development of Delhi and served the public interest. 
  • Referring to the cases of Indore Development Authority v. Shailendra & Indore Development Authority v. Manoharlal, it was argued granting the appellants leniency was justified. 
  • Since some landowners never came forward to claim compensation, the same was deposited in the treasury. That deposit should be considered payment. 
  • In certain cases, landowners had had stay orders due to which possession could not be taken. Such legal obstacles should not result in lapsing of the acquisition proceedings. 
  • If a case was to reopen every time there was a change in law, it would undermine the finality of legal proceedings. 
  • It was essential to set a broad precedent which would allows a balanced approach for condonation of delay, thereby preventing any legal uncertainty. 

ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE RESPONDENT(S):

  • The appellants had failed to show a sufficient cause for delay in filing appeals, review petitions, and Miscellaneous Applications, and had taken necessary action within the limitation period and only sought to reopen the cases after the law had been reinterpreted. 
  • Permitting the appellants to reopen the case after the passing of the limitation period would result in legal uncertainty, thereby undermining the finality of legal proceedings. 
  • Referring to the rulings in Pune Municipal Corporation case (supra) and Sree Balaji Nagar Residential Association v. State of Tamil Nadu (SBNRA), it was argued that depositing compensation in the government treasury was not the equivalent of ‘payment’, moreover, a stay order did not exclude the period from the calculation of lapse. 
  • It was crucial to protect the rights of the respondents by declaring the acquisition proceedings u/s 24(2) of the 2013 Act void as many landowners had not received any compensation or had not taken possession of their land despite the acquisition being initiated several years ago. 
  • The new law aims to ensure fair compensation and transparency in land acquisition, and therefore the appellants’ argument of public interest should not override the respondents’ legal rights and protections under the 2013 Act. 

JUDGEMENT ANALYSIS:

  • The Supreme Court ruled that the acquisition proceedings would lapse only if both the compensation had not been paid and the land had not been possessed u/s 24(2) of the 2013 Act. 
  • Overruling its decisions in the Pune Municipal corporation (supras) and SBNRA cases, the Court held that depositing compensation with the government treasury could be considered as ‘payment’ and the period of stay orders does not automatically result in lapse of proceedings. 
  • While it acknowledged the appellants’ plea on condonation of delay due to public interests, the Court rejected the arguments based on subsequent changes in law, special considerations for government entities, or the Court’s prior disapproval of filing fresh Special Leave Petitions (SLPs).
  • The Apex Court invoked its powers under Article 142 to waive specific procedural requirements of the 2013 Act, such as preparing a Social Impact Assessment Study Report and developing alternative multi-crop irrigated agricultural land. These exemptions were justified by the urban nature of lands in question and time restraints. 
  • The appeals were categorized into 3 different groups on the basis of when they were filed relative to key judgments. Each group was issued specific directions to ensure a fair and timely resolution.  
  • A one-year timeline was set by the Court to complete fresh acquisition proceedings. 
  • It lay down directives for notifications u/s 4(1) of the 1894 Act to be treated as preliminary notifications under the 2013 Act, deemed to have been published on 1st January, 2014.
  • Furthermore, the procedures for hearing of objections, public notices, and the passing of awards were outlined by the Court, underscoring a swift resolution. 
  • The assessment of the market value of the land was to be done on 1st January 2014, and the compensation was to be awarded along with all other monetary benefits according to the provisions of the 2013 Act, other than rehabilitation claims.
  • The expropriated landowners were granted the right to request a review for enhancement of compensation under Chapter VIII of the 2013 Act. 
  • All matters were accordingly disposed of by the Supreme Court. 

CONCLUSION:

The parties were granted the liberty to approach the High Court regarding any factual disputes or further clarification which may arise based on principles established in the instant judgment. The Supreme Court ensured a balanced approach in the instant ruling to resolve the disputes while upholding the finality of legal proceedings. It clarified that the interpretation of section 24(2) of the 2013 Act ensures procedural fairness in land acquisition proceedings, allowing redressal avenues through appropriate legal channels. 


 

 
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