The state government is “guardian” of the public and its interest, the Supreme Court said on Friday while deprecating the manner in which the state of Haryana dealt with acquisition proceedings, either releasing the land or permitting the acquisition to be quashed in a “most arbitrary manner”.
The apex court was dealing with the pleas arising out of the April 2021 judgement of the Punjab and Haryana High Court on a batch of petitions concerning acquisition of land for residential and commercial purposes in Kurukshetra.
A bench of Justices M R Shah and C T Ravikumar said the state shall take care in future and must use the land acquired for the purpose for which it has been acquired, otherwise the object and purpose of acquisition will be frustrated.
“The state government is guardian of the public interest and the public and the public interest was required to be considered the paramount interest rather than releasing the lands at initial stage in favour of the influential persons,” the bench said in its 22-page verdict.
The apex court noted that Haryana had issued a notification on April 21, 1987 under section 4 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 intending to acquire 35.76 acres of land for development and utilisation at sector 11, Kurukshetra.
It noted the award was pronounced by the land acquisition collector on April 12, 1990 for land measuring 34.61 acres only and thereafter, another notification was issued by the state in February 2002 for acquiring land measuring 126.30 acres for residential, commercial and institutional purposes in sector 6 and 11.
The bench observed it appeared that even before the issuance of notification under section 6 of the Act, land measuring 81.91 acres belonging to 43 land holders came to be released.
It noted that except for the original writ petitioners in one of the pleas before the high court, the rest of the land parcels acquired totalling 40.80 acres belonging to different landholders came to be released from acquisition either by the state or pursuant to orders passed by the high court in various writ petitions.
The bench said the high court in its judgement, which was challenged before the apex court, had set aside the orders/ notifications issued by the government and the action of the state in declining the prayer of the original land owners for release of their respective acquired parcels by observing that a major chunk of land belonging to similarly situated persons have already stood released.
The high court had consequently directed release of the land belonging to original land owners from acquisition.
In its verdict, the apex court observed when land parcels are acquired for utilisation and development as residential and commercial area to develop new sectors, and that too by the urban development authority, the future need is required to be considered and the expansion in future is also required to be taken into consideration.
“The expansion in future in the next 20 25 years is required to be taken into consideration and/or is required to be considered when use of such a vast land for the development of the area/new sectors are required,” it said.
The bench noted if the map produced on record is considered, except for the small portion/ plot in question, all other major chunks of land have been released either by the state on its own or pursuant to orders passed by the high court “which were never challenged by the state and it seems that the state was happy with the decision of the high court directing to release the lands from acquisition”.
The bench, while considering the facts and circumstances, said when the high court has quashed the acquisition proceedings and directed release of the land in question, it cannot be said that the high court has committed any error.
“No interference of this court is called for,” it said.
“However, at the cost of repetition, we deprecate the manner in which the state has dealt with the acquisition proceedings and have released the land(s) and/or permitted the acquisition to be quashed in a most arbitrary manner,” it said.
“The lands as such were acquired for the residential and commercial development purposes which could not have been utilised and used for public purposes and development of the area/sector and the state government by exercising the powers arbitrarily and/or in favoritism has failed to use the lands for public purposes for which the lands were acquired,” the top court said.
Dealing with one of the appeals, the bench said the land in question has already been used for sewage lines and approximately Rs 17 crore has been spent.
“Therefore, the high court has committed a very serious error in quashing and setting aside the acquisition with respect to the said land which is already put to use for the sewage lines which is being used for the public purpose and for the residents of the locality,” it said.
It also dealt with another appeal and noted the representation of the original writ petitioners to release the land from acquisition was rejected on the ground that the land was required for widening of road.
“Having gone through the map, we are of the opinion that when the land in question is required by the state for widening of the road and when the entire acquisition proceedings have been concluded…the acquisition with respect to the said land… ought not to have been quashed and/or the same land was not required to be released,” it said.