Subsequent Purchasers of Land After Section 4 Notification Have No Locus Standi to Challenge Acquisition: Supreme Court

In a significant judgment, the Supreme Court has upheld the land acquisition process initiated by the New Okhla Industrial Development Authority (NOIDA) for planned industrial development in Gautam Budh Nagar district of Uttar Pradesh. The apex court set aside a 2017 Allahabad High Court order that had quashed the acquisition proceedings.

Case Background:

The case, titled New Okhla Industrial Development Authority vs Darshan Lal Bohra & Ors (Civil Appeal No. 8048/2019), along with 17 connected appeals, challenged the Allahabad High Court’s judgment dated January 5, 2017, in Writ C. No. 36231/2015. The High Court had annulled NOIDA’s land acquisition by quashing the declaration issued under Section 6(1) of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.

The acquisition process began with a notification under Section 4(1) of the 1894 Act for acquiring 83.761 hectares of land in Village Badoli Banger, Tehsil Dadri, District Gautam Budh Nagar. The notification was published in September-November 2013, following which objections were invited under Section 5A of the Act.

Key Legal Issues:

1. Maintainability of challenge by landowners who did not file objections or accepted compensation

2. Rights of subsequent land purchasers to challenge acquisition

3. Compliance with Section 5A hearing procedure

4. Grouping and disposal of objections by the Collector

5. Issuance of corrigendum by Collector

Court’s Decision:

The Supreme Court bench comprising Justices Surya Kant and K.V. Viswanathan allowed the appeals and set aside the High Court judgment. The key rulings include:

1. Landowners who did not file objections under Section 5A or accepted compensation without protest cannot challenge the acquisition proceedings.

The court observed: “An interested person who fails to file objections, is deemed to have acquiesced to the acquisition. The maxim ‘Omnia Consensus Tollit Errorem’, i.e., every assent removes error, will thus be squarely attracted for such owners.”

2. Subsequent purchasers of land after Section 4 notification have no locus standi to challenge acquisition.

3. The court found substantial compliance with Section 5A hearing procedure, rejecting claims of ineffective hearings.

4. Grouping of similar objections by Collector for disposal was held to be permissible and not arbitrary.

5. Issuance of corrigendum by Collector was found to be insignificant and not affecting the fairness of proceedings.

Important Observations:

The court emphasized the importance of finality in acquisition proceedings, stating:

“If we were to endorse the High Court’s view on this point, it would lead to sheer wastage of time and energy that would be spent in duplicating the recommendations for each individual objection.”

On balancing individual rights with public interest, the court noted:

“Accepting the respondents’ claim would require turning back the clock, which would adversely impact the larger public interest. In some cases, reversal of small pockets of land might be impossible also since they may lie in the middle of large development projects.”

The judgment was delivered by Justice Surya Kant, with Justice K.V. Viswanathan concurring. Mr. Ravindra Kumar, Senior Counsel, represented NOIDA, while Mr. Dhruv Mehta, Senior Counsel, along with other lawyers, appeared for the respondent landowners.

The Supreme Court’s decision upholds the acquisition of 81.819 hectares of land for industrial development by NOIDA, bringing closure to a long-standing legal dispute and paving the way for planned development in the region.

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