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Owner’s rights cease, once the state gets possession of the land: Supreme Court of India

In the Land Acquisition Act dispute if the government takes possession of the property, then all the rights of the previous owner cease over the land/property. Supreme Court gave the judgment in the case of Assam Industrial Development Corporation Ltd. vs. Gillapukri Tea Company Ltd. & others [CIVIL APPEAL NO. 251-252 of 2021] stating the above-cited reasons. Presided over by the bench of Hon’ble Justice Abdul Nazeer and Justice Sanjiv Khanna.

In the above-cited case, in order to set up a plastic park, the appellant decided to acquire a portion of land at Gillapukri Tea Company for which an official gazette had already been published with the intention of acquiring 1166 biggas, 1 katha, and 14 lessas of land. The letter was addressed to the Principal Secretary of the Govt. of Assam seeking approval of the award. Another letter was sent in response to the previous letter approving the award for the same.

The dispute which arose was whether the approval was sent for the award or for the estimate. The owner of the land addressed another letter to the District collector asking for a reassessment of the compensation awarded for the land u/s 18 of the Land Acquisition Act for the said land.

It was contended that the owner received the amount for the land of Rs 4.95 crores immediately after the letter of approval was sent and the possession of the land was handed over to the commission with immediate effect and thereafter to the appellant. However, the first respondent contended that no award was approved and only the land acquisition estimate was approved, because of which, fresh acquisition proceedings began in 2012 for the approval of the award.

U/s 9 of the Land Acquisition Act, objections and claims were asked for and a fresh letter was issued approving the award. Since the award under the fresh proceedings was approved and made after coming into force of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, the first respondent approached the Deputy Commissioner to seek a fresh award by determining the compensation payable in terms of Section 24(1)(a) of the 2013 Act.

The state argued that pursuant to the award, possession of the land was taken from the first respondent by the acquiring authority and the land was then handed over to the appellant. It was also submitted that the entire compensation had been paid to the first respondent. The state cleared that the fresh award was only approved for the landowners who were left out from the benefit, the last time.

Hence, observing the arguments, SC Bench noted that the award amount was indeed made available to the Deputy Commissioner and the awarded sum was duly paid to and received by the first respondent. SC observed that the construction on the aforesaid land had already begun including the construction of boundary walls, entrance gate, industrial sheds, and warehouses.

Court gave the judgment that “Once the award has been approved, compensation has been paid thereunder and possession of the land has been handed over to the Government, acquisition proceedings could not have been reopened”.

Referring to the judgment of Indore Development Authority vs. Manohar Lal, SC stated that once the possession has been taken by the State, the land vests absolutely with the state and the title of the previous landowner ceases.

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