Apr 27, 2022 07:42 UTC
May 1, 2022 at 07:56 UTC
Case Study: Kalyani (Dead) through LRS. & ors. v. The Sulthan Bathery Municipality & ors.
“Right to Compensation is implicit in Article 300A of the Indian Constitution”
CIVIL APPEAL NO(s). 3189 OF 2022
Date of Judgement: 26 April, 2022
Author: Justice Vikram Nath
Bench: Justice Vikram Nath, Justice Dinesh Maheshwari
The appellants are farmers who pursue their livelihood through cultivation of their land. The Panchayat wanted to widen the Village Bypass Road. Therefore, it requested the Appellants to utilize their land for the construction of the Road. The appellants were assured that they shall be paid proper compensation for surrendering their land to the Panchayat.
The construction of the Road was completed in 2010, however the compensation was not paid to the aggrieved farmers. In face complete inaction of the concerned authorities for many years, consequently, the farmers moved to the Kerala High Court with their demand for compensation in 2014. The Panchayat contended in the court that the land was given voluntarily by the farmers, therefore they are not entitled to compensation. However, their contention was rejected on grounds that there was no material on record to show that the land was surrendered voluntarily. The Single Judge Bench of the High Court, relying on Article 300A of the Indian Constitution, ruled in the favour of farmers and ordered the Panchayat to disburse them compensation calculated at market rate. Meanwhile the Panchayat was declared to be a Municipality, thus the liability was now burdened upon the newly constituted Municipality.
The Municipality appealed against the decision to the Division Bench of the High Court. The Division bench ruled that The Division Bench set aside the judgment of the Single Judge Bench on grounds that the burden of proof was on farmers to prove that they were given any assurance of suitable compensation. Since the farmers could not discharge their burden, their claim cannot succeed. Moreover, the Division Bench recorded that there was no provision in law which stipulated that price needs to be given in case land is acquired for road development.
The aggrieved farmers challenged the decision of the Division bench by a Special Leave Petition to the Supreme Court.
The Apex Court acknowledged the fact that there is no doubt that the appellants have been deprived of their land for the construction of the road. The top court while hearing the plea challenging the order of the Division Bench, admitted the fact that there was no record showing the acquisition proceedings nor any transfer of property by the appellants by way of sale, gift or otherwise. Since the Panchayat/Municipality is the beneficiary of the transaction wherein it gained land, the burden of proof shall lie upon the beneficiary to prove that it was a voluntary surrender in their favour. The Division Court therefore, was wrong to shift the burden of proof on the aggrieved farmers. In the case of voluntary surrender, it is expected that a memorandum or an agreement or a written document ought to have been executed by the appellants stating clearly their free will to surrender for no consideration in favour of the Panchayat/Municipality.
On the observation made by the Division bench that there was no existence of any scheme for the payment in case of acquiring land for road construction, thus there could not be any claim for the aggrieved farmers, the Supreme Court remarked, “The Division Bench has also noted that there was no scheme for road development by giving price of the land acquired. This observation by the Division Bench would also be contrary to mandate of Article 300A. If there was no scheme, then it was the fault of the State or the Panchayat. To say that there was no scheme is one thing and owner of the land surrendering his land voluntarily without payment of compensation would be different. If there was no such scheme then all the more it was necessary to get the surrender, if any, documented, by the Panchayat/Municipality or the State or the PWD, as the case may be.” (para 16)
The Apex Court determined the issue on the touchstone of Article 300A of the Indian Constitution which clearly stipulate that in case of acquisition of land of a person, that person has a right to claim compensation. Since the Panchayat/Municipality has failed to discharge its burden of proving that such acquisition of land was made through voluntary surrender, it was liable as per Article 300A to pay just and reasonable compensation the aggrieved farmer. “Construction/widening of road no doubt would be a public purpose but there being no justification for not paying compensation the action of the respondents would be arbitrary, unreasonable and clearly violative of Article 300-A of the Constitution.” (para 21)
The Supreme Court struck down the judgment of the Division Court, and upheld the decision of the Single Judge Bench.
Key Law Positions established in the case:
- Is deprivation of the land of farmers on which they practise their livelihood violation of their constitutional rights?
Yes, such a deprivation is violation of Article 21 and Article 300A of the Indian Constitution. (para 10)
- What is the status of Article 300A of the Indian Constitution?
Article 300A though not a fundamental right but nevertheless it has status of being a constitutional or a statutory right. It provides that no citizen would be deprived of his property save without authority of law. Nobody’s property can be taken without payment of a just compensation to him, unless the person voluntarily surrenders his right, but even in such a case, proper documentation of voluntary surrender needs to be there and the burden of proof for the same shall lie on the beneficiary of the allegedly surrendered land. Relying on the Constitutional Bench decision in the case of K.T. Plantation Private Limited and another vs. State of Karnataka (2011) , two requirements are implicit and pre-condition for the acquisition of any land under Article 300A, namely:
a) The land is needed for public purpose.
b) The owner of land has a right to claim compensation for the acquisition of such land.
The State has to justify both these grounds be it through its statute, legislative policy, object and purpose of the legislature and other related factors.
 (2011) 9 SCC 1