In cases of delay in filing compensation in a land acquisition, statutory benefits such as interest for the delayed period can be denied.: Supreme Court

The key issue addressed in this judgment revolves around the condonation of delay in filing appeals for enhancement of compensation in a land acquisition case. The appellants, whose land was acquired, sought to challenge the compensation awarded to them by the Special Land Acquisition Officer through a reference under Section 18 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894. However, they failed to file their appeals within the prescribed time limit and subsequently applied for condonation of the delay, citing reasons such as illiteracy, poverty, and being advised to file the appeal at a later date.

The case, Mohar Singh (dead) through LRS. & Ors. versus State of Uttar Pradesh Collector & Ors. [SLP(C) No.16572/2016] originated in the trial court, where the Special Land Acquisition Officer passed an award granting compensation at the rate of Rs.70 per square yard for the acquired land. Subsequently, most landowners, including the appellants, filed references under Section 18 of the Act seeking enhanced compensation. The Xth Additional District Judge partially accepted these references and increased the compensation to Rs.106 per square yard through an award dated 06.04.1998.

However, dissatisfied landowners, including the appellants, filed first appeals before the High Court seeking further enhancement of compensation. Despite being advised to file the appeals in 2011, the appellants did not do so within the stipulated time frame. Their appeals were consequently dismissed by the High Court in 2016, as the court declined to condone the delay in filing.

Meanwhile, other landowners approached the High Court, which on 04.07.2016, enhanced the compensation to Rs.130 per square yard for their acquired land. Some landowners, still dissatisfied with the compensation, appealed to the Supreme Court in C.A. No.12631/2017 and connected matters. The Supreme Court, in its order dated 12.12.2017, partially allowed these appeals by further enhancing the compensation to Rs.150 per square yard, disagreeing with the High Court’s deduction towards development costs.

In the present petition before the Supreme Court, the appellants seek parity with their co-landowners who were granted compensation at the rate of Rs.130 per square yard by the High Court and subsequently enhanced to Rs.150 per square yard by the Supreme Court in earlier appeals. They argue that their delay in filing the appeal should have been condoned by the High Court, considering the pending appeals of their co-villagers. Additionally, they seek the higher compensation determined by the Supreme Court in previous similar cases.

Issue before the court was whether the appellants, whose appeals for enhanced compensation were filed after a significant delay of almost 13 years, could still be entitled to seek parity with their co-villagers who had received higher compensation rates. Another issue was whether the appellants could claim the higher rate of compensation fixed for the land of village Makanpur.

Court highlighted that while in compensatory matters, an inordinate delay in filing appeals may not be fatal per se, the rights and equities between the parties should be balanced. The court pointed out that denying statutory benefits, such as interest for the delayed period, could be a way to address the delay. This aligns with the principle of equity and fairness in compensation matters.

Regarding the claim for enhanced compensation at the rate fixed for the land of village Makanpur, the court observed that this claim had been explicitly raised before the High Court, but it was rejected. Additionally, the court noted that in a further appeal, the claim of parity between the acquired lands of village Khora and Makanpur had been impliedly rejected. Therefore, the court found no reason to alter this view and dismissed the plea for compensation at par with the land owners of village Makanpur.

Furthermore, the court reasoned that granting the appellants a higher compensation rate than their vigilant counterparts would lead to hostile discrimination and would be unfair. It emphasized the need to maintain parity among landowners in similar situations to prevent unjust outcomes.

Finally, the court held that while the appellants were entitled to compensation at a rate of Rs.150 per sq. yard for their acquired land, they would not receive statutory interest for the period of delay. The court also directed the appellants to rectify deficiencies in court fees within a stipulated timeframe before receiving the enhanced compensation.

In summary, the court’s analysis centered on balancing the principles of equity, fairness, and parity among landowners while addressing the issue of delayed appeals. The court ultimately held that the appellants were entitled to compensation at a specific rate but without statutory interest for the delayed period.

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Written by- Aditi

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