Occupancy tenants of land acquired by state have right to claim compensation under land acquisition laws: High Court of Jammu and Kashmir

Occupancy tenant has the right of occupancy in respect to the land held by him so he can live and cultivate on the land to earn a livelihood. Despite not owning the land, occupancy tenants have the right to be compensated in a situation where the land is acquired for some purpose by the state. This was held in the judgement passed by a bench of the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir consisting of Justice Sanjeev Kumar and Justice Javed Iqbal Wani in the case of Prem Singh v Union Territory [WP(C) No. 1184/2020] on 16th June 2021.

The petitioner, Prem Singh challenged the acquisition of 2 kanals of land in Chowadhi village by the state for the construction of a receiving station. The petitioner contends that subject land was acquired without following the due process of law and that as an occupancy tenant; he should be entitled to compensation from the respondents. Upon examining the documents of the land, it was discovered that the land came under the state ownership after the passing of Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, 1950 and the tillers who worked for former owner were given occupancy rights to live and earn a living from the land. The occupancy rights over the strip of land in question were supposedly given to one tiller named Balak Ram who is the father of the petitioner, although the ownership was still under the state. Later mutations of revenue files showed contradictory information that Balak Ram’s occupancy rights had been terminated in 1957, although he continued to cultivate and earn his livelihood on the land. The court ordered for a committee to be constituted of revenue officers who will conduct necessary enquiries and further examine the circumstances under which the petitioner and his predecessors remain in possession of the land in question.

The judgement concluded that “Should the Committee find no illegality in the matter or that to the error or omission, if any, committed by the revenue authorities, the petitioner was not in any manner contributory, he shall be deemed to be the occupancy tenant and the Deputy Commissioner, Jammu, shall, accordingly, initiate action under the relevant provisions of Land Acquisition Law to work out permissible compensation payable to the petitioner as occupancy tenant. The requisite funds for acquisition shall be provided by the Power Development Department, which has already taken over the land and has been in the process of constructing the Receiving Station”.

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