A Supreme Court bench comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Vikram Nath in Kalyani (Dead) Through Lrs. & Ors. vs. The Sulthan Bathery Municipality & Ors,
held that the actions of the respondents of acquiring the property of the appellants, all farmers, without paying any compensation was arbitrary, unreasonable and clearly a violation of Article 300A
of the Constitution. The bench, while relying on its judgment in K.T. Plantation Private Limited & Anr vs. State of Karnataka
), observed that under the mandate of Article 300A, the State can only deprive a person of the right to property if the same is for a public purpose and the right to compensation is fulfilled, thereby reiterating that the right to compensation is an inbuilt part of Article 300A.
In the present judgment, the sole contention was that the land owned by the farmers was within the territorial limits of the Panchayat (respondent no.1), later converted to a Municipality (respondent no. 3). The Panchayat requested to utilise the land of the appellants for construction or widening of the road and in return, they assured adequate compensation. However, after the road was constructed by the Public Works Department [PWD], no compensation was granted to them.
Through a judgment dated August 26, 2016, a single judge bench of the High Court of Kerala reiterated the right to compensation of the farmers and observed that no evidence by the Panchayat/Municipality and Public Works Department was afforded to suggest that appellants had surrendered their land voluntarily, as was argued by the respondents, and thus, the claims of compensation must be fulfilled. However, an appeal was carried out by the Panchayat/Municipality and on September 12, 2018 division bench of the High Court of Kerala overruled the judgment of the single judge bench on the grounds that the burden of proof, that the compensation was assured, was on the appellants-which they had failed to discharge. The division bench also stated that there was no provision for road development by giving the price of the land acquired.
In the instant judgment, the Supreme Court, while maintaining the judgment of the single judge bench, held that the property was not voluntarily surrendered by the farmers which was also reflected from the fact that they have consistently held the same position, and it was the division bench that erred in shifting the burden of proof on the appellants. The bench further stated that Article 300A restricts a person to be deprived of his constitutional right to property save otherwise only by the authority of law and this court could not find any authority of law that would suggest that the land of the appellants can be acquired by the Panchayat/Municipality without paying compensation. The court also commented that the land was used by the farmers for agricultural purposes and not paying them adequate compensation would also be a violation of their right to livelihood; an integral fundamental right of Article 21
Further, addressing the observation made by the high court’s division bench that no provision for the road development requires compensation to be paid, the Supreme Court held that this view is contrary to the mandate under Article 300A. Thus, the present appeal was allowed.
Click here to view the Supreme Court’s judgment.
(Gursimran Kaur Bakshi is a staff writer at The Leaflet)
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