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Projects of Public Interest should not be Halted on mere Technicalities, Courts must weigh Public Interest vis-a-vis Private Interest | J&K High Court

On 29-12-2020, the Single Bench of the Hon’ble High Court presided over by Hon’ble Mr. Justice Rajesh Bindal, Chief Justice (Acting) dismissed a bunch of petitions challenging the acquisition proceedings.

The petitioners had approached the Hon’ble High Court praying for quashing of the notification issued under Section 4 & 6 of the J&K Land Acquisition Act and the award announced by the Land Acquisition Collector.

The main argument on behalf of the petitioners in the case:

Issuance of Notification under the Act.

The petitioners pleaded that the notification issued under section 4 of the Act is liable to be set aside for the reason that the same was published only in two English newspapers, which did not have circulation in the area, and notification was not published in any newspaper in regional language and non-compliance of the provisions of section 4, 6 and 9 of the Act, the acquisition deserves to be quashed.

Argument on behalf of the AAG:

Object of publication of notification in the gazette and also in the newspapers is merely to apprise the land owners about the proposed acquisition and all the land owners were well aware of the acquisition proceedings as even prior to the start of acquisition process, they had filed a representation to the authorities seeking to stall the process of acquisition.

Learned AAG further argued that once they had the knowledge of the process of acquisition, they cannot take the plea now that the notification was not published in the newspaper in a regional language or they were not given personal notice of the acquisition. Same is the arguments with reference to the plea of no public notice by way of beat of drums and through local Panchayats and Patwari’s.

Learned AAG further submitted that the project of widening of Jammu-Akhnoor road is of national importance for the reason that this road caters to the need of our armed forces in the border areas. She further submitted that most of the land owners have already been paid 80% of the compensation. The amount stands transferred in their accounts.

She further submitted that we have to weigh private interest against larger public interest and in this case the public interest is more important than the private interest of the individuals.

Observation of the Court:

The Court observed that the total land acquired was 102 Kanals and 16 Marlas and out of which only 18 Kanals and 5 Marlas of land were belonging to the private parties. Out of this 18 Kanals and 5 Marlas of land, the petitioners have failed to show in which capacity they are holding the possession of land to the extent of 12 Kanals and 3.5 Marlas.  

The Court while considering the contentions of the petitioners about the notification referred to the law laid down by the Supreme Court in case titled Special Deputy Collector, Land Acquisition C.M.D.A vs. J. Sivaprakasam and others (2011)1 SCC 330

The Court further observed that the intent of issuance of notification under section 4 is to make the people aware about the intention of the Government to acquire the land. Such a notice can either be actual, implied or constructive. The Court was satisfied about the fact that the inference of implied or constructive notice can be drawn from the facts and circumstances of the case and hence, the purpose of section 4 is fulfilled.

The Court said, any acquisition process cannot be stalled on account of technical issues, where the project is of national importance and the affected persons already had knowledge of the acquisition.

The Court importantly said that the project being of immense importance, strategic and otherwise, cannot be stalled for issues raised regarding such a small portion of land.

The Court while dismissing the petitions said that the petitioners had knowledge about the acquisition of the land much before even the notification under section 4 of the Act was issue and technical pleas of non-publication in regional language newspaper or in village will not have any relevance.

The Court held that the project for which the land is acquired is of immense public importance and major part of that is already complete and the same cannot now be left in between.

The Court also held that the relief with regard to the compensation to the rightful owners and possession of land more than acquired, the competent authority shall take appropriate action.

Judgments referred by the Court:

Swaran Lata v. State of Haryana, (2010) 4 SCC 532

May George v. Special Tehsildar and ors., (2010) 13 SCC 98

Bishan Dass & Ors vs UT of J&K and Ors.