The Punjab and Haryana High Court on 1st October, 2020stated that only State has the authority and power to de-notify their land under acquisition as per Section 101A inserted vide Haryana Act no. 21 of 2018 which states the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. Remarkably, this is the first time that Punjab and Haryana High Court have construed the provision enumerated under Section 101A of the said Act, 2013.
The Court was of the opinion that it is very much clear under the abovementioned section that an individual landowner doesn’t have the right to seek for de-notification of his own land under acquisition. The Division Bench comprised Justice Daya Chaudhary and Justice Meenakshi I. Mehta who heard the order while interpreting Section 101A of the 2013 Act regarding the de-notification of land under acquisition.
Spirit of Section 101A of the Act, 2013
The Court was hearing 2 petitions regarding the same matter where the petitioners prayed for liberty to approach the State government under the said Section 101A of the Act to be granted to the landowner or writ applicant whose land was acquired by the State. The main question was whether the applicant can approach the State or not for such matters.
On examining the judgment of the Supreme Court in the Indore Development Authority’s case, the High Court inferred that, once the possession of the land is taken by the government authorities or the State government then the landowner or whosoever had the possession of the land would be considered a trespasser of the land.
For the sake of conciseness and clarity, section 101A of the Act, 2013 has been stated below-
“Section 101A- Power to denotify land. - When any public purpose, for which the land acquired under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 (Central Act 1 of 1894) becomes unviable or non-essential, the State Government shall be at liberty to denotify such land, on such terms, as considered expedient by the State Government, including the payment of compensation on account of damages, if any, sustained by the landowner due to such acquisition: Provided that where a part of the acquired land has been utilized or any encumbrances have been created, the landowner may be compensated by providing alternative land along with payment of damages, if any, as determined by the State Government."
As it has been clarified that Section 101A of the Act 2013, was inserted into the Act, 2013 by way of the Haryana Amendment act 2017 as notified on 24/5/2018. Notably, section 101A of the Act, 2013 came into existence with the help of Section 5 of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Haryana Amendment) Act, 2017 which gave the power to the state to de-notify the already acquired land in case the “public purpose” for which the land was acquired under the Land Acquisition Act becomes impractical or non-essential.
In simpler words, the true essence of Section 101A of the Act, 2013 deals with the restitution of land to the owners back in case where the land has been acquired by the State and is vested with the State government free from all sorts of encumbrances.
Prior to insertion of Section 101A
Before the insertion of Section 101A, the notified land was taken in the possession by the Collector and then it vested with the State government free from all encumbrances and there was no clause for restituting the land back to the landowners which could be exercised by those landowners from whom the land was originally acquired. Thus, section 101A of the Act was introduced to replace the issue.
Analysis of the High Court
Looking into the aspects of Section 101A of the Act and its main purpose of adding the section to the Amendment Act the Court observed, “When at once it is clear that the power is discretionary and doesn’t confer any corresponding legal right upon the individual right owner, same is thus, outside the purview of the jurisdiction of this Court.”
The Court further noted, “Grant of such liberty to approach the State Government under Section 101A of the said Act, 2013 would mean commending the government to consider the application under Section 101A which is though only an enabling provision that to de-notifying the entire acquired land and not just a parcel of land if in the opinion of the State government the “public purpose” for which the land was acquired has become unviable or non-essential without giving any right to the landowners.”
Further, the Court also observed that granting such liberty would go against the decision of the Apex Court in Indore Development Authority’s case, where the Court noted the deciding scope of Section 24(2) of the Act, 2013 and held that once the possession of the land is taken, then it vests with State only free from all encumbrances.
Lastly, the Court said, “It can be safely concluded that when Hon’ble the Apex Court has specifically held that after vesting of land in the State, the landowners ceases to their right over the land in the dispute especially when the acquisition proceedings are already upheld in the earlier round of litigation and no liberty can be given as the same would not be consonance with the settled law and the judgment delivered by Hon’ble Apex Court in the present context.”
Additional Advocate General, Ankur Mittal who appeared for the case stated, “This provision has been interpreted for the first time. Many individual landowners are approaching the Court with the same application of releasing their lands which is unnecessarily increasing the litigation in Court. The Judgment will help in curbing this. Thus, the plea of the petitioner was dismissed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court stating that the only State has the power to exercise the de-notifying of the acquired land.