The Supreme Court recently delivered a split verdict on whether notice must be given to possessors in a land acquisition proceeding by the acquiring authority under the Rajasthan Urban Improvement Act, even when their names were not reflected in the revenue records, despite being in possession of the land. This case titled URBAN IMPROVEMENT TRUST, BIKANER V. GORDHAN DASS (D) THROUGH Lrs. & OTHERS, CIVIL APPEAL NO.8411 OF 2014 has significant implications for land acquisition procedures, and the split verdict reflects differing views on the legal requirements. Here is an analysis of the case and the two different perspectives presented in the Supreme Court’s judgment.

 Background of the Case  

The case involved an appeal against a decision by the Rajasthan High Court, which had declared the land acquisition in question as void. The High Court’s decision was based on the ground that the acquisition notification was issued without proper notice to the landowner, as required under Section 52 of the Rajasthan Urban Improvement Act, 1959.

 Division Bench of the Supreme Court  

The matter was considered by a division bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justice Manoj Misra and Justice HrishikeshRoy. They both provided differing perspectives on the case.

 Justice Hrishikesh Roy’s View  

Justice Roy held that the procedure prescribed under Section 52 of the Rajasthan Urban Improvement Act was not followed in this case. He emphasized that for compulsory land acquisition to be valid, it was essential to adhere to the statutory procedure outlined in Section 52, which includes giving notice and providing an opportunity for hearing to the owner and any other interested persons.

Justice Roy’s key arguments and observations included:

– Land acquisition for a public purpose is permitted, but it must adhere to the statutory process.

– Non-adherence to the prescribed procedure could prejudice landowners and other interested parties.

– Strict adherence to procedural requirements is essential for fairness and transparency in land acquisition.

– The doors of justice should not be closed to landowners who are about to lose their land through compulsory acquisition.

– Denying land losers access to civil courts would aggravate the injustice caused by compulsory land acquisition.

Justice Roy, therefore, concluded that the acquisition proceedings were void ab initio because of the failure to follow the mandatory procedure, which is essential for a fair and lawful land acquisition process.

 Justice Manoj Misra’s View  

In contrast to Justice Roy, Justice Misra was of the opinion that the acquisition notification should not be considered void. He highlighted that once an acquisition notification is published under subsection (1) of Section 52, there is a legal presumption that it conforms with the provisions of the Rajasthan Urban Improvement Act.

Justice Misra made several key points:

– Presumption exists that official acts have been regularly performed, as per Section 114, Illustration € of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.

– If the names of the owners are not recorded in the land records, it is not the state’s obligation to conduct an extensive inquiry to find the real owners.

– Serving notice on the owners listed in the land records is sufficient compliance with the statutory obligation.

– There is no legal obligation on the state authorities to conduct a detailed investigation to identify the real owners when their names are not in the land records.

Moreover, Justice Misra opined that the suit filed against the acquisition was not maintainable, as it was barred by the Rajasthan Tenancy Act, 1955, and should have been presented before the revenue court. This was another area where his view differed from Justice Roy’s perspective.

 Implications of the Split Verdict  

The split verdict in this case reflects the complexity and legal challenges associated with land acquisition procedures, especially in cases where the ownership is not clearly reflected in land records. The differing views of the two justices highlight the need for clarity and consistency in land acquisition laws and procedures.

This case raises questions about the procedural safeguards required to protect landowners’ rights, the importance of adhering to statutory processes, and whether access to civil courts should be maintained for land losers facing compulsory acquisition.

The Supreme Court’s split decision underscores the ongoing legal debates surrounding land acquisition in India and the need for clear guidelines to address the rights and responsibilities of individuals and authorities involved in these procedures.

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