Acquisition Proceedings Revisited
Unjustifiable acquisition of land by government authorities in the name of public interest is in limelight these days. Pressure groups and affected individuals have raised objections with the view that the correct procedure as laid down in the law is not being followed. Those affected claim that they are being neglected and deprived of their legal right to challenge the decision of the revenue officers. Revenue officers have been abusing the due process of law by invoking Sec 17(4) of the Punjab Land Acquisition Act 1984 (Act 1 of 1894) in land acquisition cases, whereas this provision relates specifically to emergency acquisition proceedings. The revenue authorities, it has been further conveyed, pay little heed to Rule 4 of Punjab Land Acquisition Rules 1983 which underlines the procedure to be adopted in such cases.
It is imperative to note that the provision of Sec 17(4) of the Land Acquisition Act is an exceptional provision which should be used very sparingly and that too with proper justification. Indiscreet use of this provision debars the concerned landowners of the protection available to them under Sec 5 and 5(A) of the Act, read with rule 4 and 9 of the Land Acquisition Rules 1983. It denies the aggrieved party of its right to be heard for redressal of its grievances. In other words, it negates the legal dictum “Audi alteram partem” which asserts that nobody should be condemned unheard.
Human rights occupy a pivotal position in the English Law which lays a great emphasis on the dispensation of justice in a transparent, just and equitable manner with a right of appeal to the aggrieved person to seek removal of his grievances. The Land Acquisition Law and the Rules made thereunder, provide a rational basis to acquire the property of an individual/party for public welfare purposes and for a company. Here, it will be appropriate to determine the relationship between the law and the rules framed thereunder. Acts/laws set out standards, procedures and principles that must be followed in any particular situation and the rules made thereunder, are the guidelines that are provided to ensure the enforcement of law in letter and spirit. Rules framed within the parameters of the basic law, are binding, violation of which vitiates the proceedings.
The first and foremost step of land acquisition is notification under Section 4 of the Act which, inter alia, shows the desire of the District Collector that a land situated in a certain locality is needed for any public purpose or for a company. It also enables the collector to authorize the concerned officers to enter upon the land, survey its location and do all other acts necessary to ascertain whether the land is suitable for acquisition.
Following on, is the notification under Section 5 which denotes that the provincial government needs to be satisfied with the stance taken by the District Collector that a particular piece of land is required for public purpose or for the establishment of a company. Such an intention of the government must be published in the official gazette, stating the necessary details and shall cause public notice to be given to this effect.
It is imperative to highlight Section 5 (A) which deals with the rules regarding the hearing of objections of the aggrieved party and is reproduced hereinbelow:
5-A. Hearing of objections.—(1) Any person interested in any land which has been notified under section 5 as being needed for a public purpose or for a Company may, within thirty days after the issue of the notification, object to the acquisition of the land or of any land in the locality, as the case may be.
(2) Every objection under sub-section (1) shall be made to the Collector in writing, and the Collector shall give the objector an opportunity of being heard either in person or by pleader and shall, after hearing all such objections and after making such further inquiry, if any, as he thinks necessary, submit the case for the decision of the [Executive District Officer (Revenue)] together with the record of the proceedings held by him and a report containing his recommendations on the objections. The decision of the [Executive District Officer (Revenue)] on the objections shall be final.
(3) Where land is needed for a Company, the Collector shall, after making such enquiries as he deems necessary, also make his recommendations to the[Executive District Officer (Revenue)] with regard to the area that in his opinion is reasonable for the purpose.
(4) For the purpose of this section, a person shall be deemed to be interested in land who would be entitled to claim an interest in compensation if the land were acquired under this Act.
Perusal of the Rule mentioned above indicates that the aggrieved party has the right to raise an objection to the acquisition of land within 30 days of the notification. The District Collector is under a duty to give due weightage to the arguments presented in the hearing and subsequently prepare a case, including his recommendations, and present it to the Divisional Commissioner. The decision of the Commissioner shall be treated as final and a declaration to that effect shall be made under his signature or any person duly authorized by him.
It is noteworthy that the exceptions laid down in the law may only be invoked in emergency situations where public interest is of paramount importance and acquisition of land cannot be subjected to further delay. The law permits the concerned authorities to invoke Sec 17(4) of Land Acquisition Act which undermines the application of Section 5 and 5A, rendering it ineffective. It needs to be taken into account that the emergency provisions may not be invoked until and unless there is a strong justification for the same. In all other circumstances Rule 4 of the Punjab Land Acquisition Rules 1983 is applicable which states, “On receipt of the application under rule (3) the collector of the district shall examine its feasibility taking into consideration the genuineness of the public purpose involved, the minimum requirements of the acquiring agency and suitability of the area proposed for requisition keeping in view its alternative uses if any”. This would mean that all necessary steps such as i) detailed examination and feasibility, ii) genuineness of public purpose involved iii) minimum area needed and its suitability in respect of its alternative uses, and iv) hearing and redressal of objections, are mandatory.
As stated above, Section 5A of the Act gives ample rights to the aggrieved party to raise objections to the acquisition of their land. Rule 9 prescribes the procedure laid out in this regard which states, “Every objection received by the Collector under section 5-A of the Act, shall be disposed of by the Collector with the least possible delay and his report under sub-section (2) thereof or recommendations under sub-section (3), as the case may be shall be forwarded to the Commissioner/EDOR within a period of ninety days from the date of publication of the Notification under Section 5. The decision of Commissioner/EDOR on these objections shall be announced by him within a period of three months from the date of receipt of the report or the recommendations of the Collector, as the case may be. If the report of the Collector or his recommendations, as the case may be, are not forwarded to the Commissioner, or if the decision of the Commissioner is not announced within the period specified in this rule the objection shall be deemed to have been carried and the acquisition proceeding shall come to an end”.
In lieu of the discussion above it may be concluded that the law does provide emergency powers under Section 17(4) to the Revenue Officers (Commissioner/EDOR) to do away with the requirements of Section 5 and 5(A), only on strong and convincing grounds for such a course to be adopted. For instance, the revenue authority should clearly mention about the nature of emergency and the circumstances warranting it. Above all, this provision should be used as an exception rather than a rule. In all other cases, adherence to Rule 4 of the Punjab Acquisition Rules 1983 becomes a mandatory requirement to complete the acquisition proceedings.
Nonetheless, the acquisition proceedings should be undertaken strictly in line with the Land Acquisition Act 1984 (Act 1 of 1894) and Rules framed thereunder. Handling of such cases in an insouciant and casual manner without any heed to the due process of law and rules would make the whole proceedings legally void. The person whose land is to be acquired has an inherent right to challenge the proceedings on the grounds of jurisdiction, suitability of land for the purpose indicated under the concerned notification and the extent of its requirement, assessed price, etc. Sections 5 and 5(A) of the Act ibid give him due rights to be heard and given relief accordingly.
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