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Self-serving affidavits create no interest in property when the person executing them is not ‘family’: Supreme Court of India.

Relatives who are not dependent on the claimant will constitute a separate family unit for the purposes of compensation and rehabilitation. Self-serving affidavits created by such a an individual create no interest in the land particularly when the persons who executed them do not fall within the ambit of the phrase ‘family’. This was held by the Hon’ble Justice Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud in the case of Eastern Coalfields Limited Vs. Anadinath Banerjee (D) and Others [Civil Appeal Nos 2887-2889 of 2021] on the 3rd of August, 2021 before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India.

The brief facts of the case are, Eastern Coalfields Limited is a subsidiary of Coal India Limited and is a government company within the meaning of Section 617 of the erstwhile Companies Act 1956. An expansion scheme was proposed for the which is located in Raniganj Coalfield in West Bengal. A meeting took place between the representatives of the Company, persons whose lands were acquired, and the state government. In pursuance of the discussions, a tripartite agreement appears to have been arrived at, under which a person whose lands had been acquired would be entitled to employment by Eastern Coalfields if the acquired land-holding was at least 2 acres. Though the Tripartite agreement has not been placed on the record, the pleadings and submissions before the High Court and this court have proceeded on this position being undisputed. The authorities on 8 November 1991, prepared a rehabilitation list of thirty-seven eligible candidates from whom more than 2 acres of land was acquired in pursuance of what is described as a “one time package deal/tripartite decision”. The name of the respondent was not included in this list. the representatives of the Company, persons whose lands were acquired, and the state government. In pursuance of the discussions, a tripartite agreement appears to have been arrived at, under which a person whose lands had been acquired would be entitled to employment by Eastern Coalfields if the acquired land-holding was at least 2 acres. Though the Tripartite agreement has not been placed on the record, the pleadings and submissions before the High Court and this court have proceeded on this position being undisputed. The authorities on 8 November 1991, prepared a rehabilitation list of thirty-seven eligible candidates from whom more than 2 acres of land was acquired in pursuance of what is described as a “one time package deal/tripartite decision”. The name of the respondent was not included in this list. Collector’s certificate that the actual holding of the respondent in his own name was in respect of plot Nos 1945 and 1948 admeasuring 0.300 acres.

The counsel for the respondents submitted that, he Personnel Manager of the Sonepur Bazari Area rejected the claim of the Respondent on the ground that he only held 2.01 acres of land, which was lesser than the 2.04 acres of minimum holding of acquired land required under the rehabilitation employment scheme. This led to the institution of a writ petition before the High Court. Moreover, it was also submitted that the lands in question had been acquired in 1990 and the petition before the High Court had been instituted after a lapse of over fifteen years.  The appellant submitted that there was no documentary evidence to indicate that the respondent had title to land in excess of two acres. No documentary material was produced, not even revenue records. The holding of relatives and others cannot be included in the holding of the respondent merely on the basis of self-serving affidavits which would not amount to a conveyance of title. The learned Single Judge allowed the claim of the respondent by a judgment dated 30 April 2013. The learned Single Judge proceeded on the basis that it was an admitted case that the land belonging to the respondent admeasuring about 2 acres was acquired for the purposes of the project. In this regard, the Single Judge placed reliance on the order passed by the Personnel Manager. On this basis, the Single Judge came to the conclusion that the respondent was in possession of land in excess of the minimum required (2 acres) and was, therefore, entitled to employment. On appeal, the order of the Single Judge has been affirmed by the Division Bench by a judgment dated 9 September 2013.

The learned judge heard the submissions of both the parties an observed the definition of ‘family’ Under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 which is, “family includes a person, his or her spouse, minor children, minor brothers and minor sisters dependent on him: Provided that widows, divorcees and women deserted by families shall be considered separate families. Explanation. —An adult of either gender with or without spouse or children or dependents shall be considered as a separate family for the purposes of this Act;” Applying this definition the court came to the conclusion that, “The principle which can be deduced is that relatives who are not dependent on the claimant will constitute a separate family unit for the purposes of compensation and rehabilitation. The self-serving affidavits executed by the father, brother and nephews of the respondent cannot be taken as the basis of determining whether the holding of the respondent was in excess of the threshold of two acres. Such affidavits create no interest in the land particularly when the persons who executed them do not fall within the ambit of the phrase ‘family’.” The appeal was allowed and the judgement by the High Court was set aside.

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