The object of the Requisitioning and Acquisition of Immovable Properties Act, 1952 (‘the Act’) was to enable the Union of India (‘Union’) to requisition or acquire immovable property if the competent authority was of the opinion that any property was necessary for a public purpose.
Recently, the Supreme Court of India in B.K. Ravichandra v. Union of India, [(2020) SCC OnLine SC 950], vide its Judgment dated 24.11.2020 held and directed the Union of India to hand back possession of the suit lands to the rightful owners, within the period of three months as the right to property is a valuable Constitutional Right.
The Brief Facts of the Case are as follows:
Initially, the Act was to be in force for six years. On 27.02.1958, the Act was amended and the period of its operation extended. Meanwhile, the Defence of India Act, 1962 (‘the DIA’) was enacted by Parliament empowering the Central Government with powers akin to those enacted under the Act. The Union of India (‘Respondent’) invoked its powers under the DIA and requisitioned the three Properties (‘Suit Lands), which belonged to the predecessor of the B.K. Ravichandra (‘Appellants’). The Competent Authority fixed the compensation for these lands by Order dated 18.12.1964. The approval for this compensation fixation was given much later in 1968.
In 1972, the predecessor of the Appellants felt that the compensation fixed for the Suit Lands was inadequate and applied for enhancement. The dispute was referred to an Arbitrator under Section 8(2) of the DIA.
The Arbitrator pronounced an Award dated 17.07.1975, which determined compensation as 6% per annum on the capital value of land and held that the Appellants’ Predecessor was entitled to receive Compensation in respect of the Suit Lands. The Award dated 17.07.1975 was appealed before the Karnataka High Court by the Respondents, vide MFA 1405/1985. The Division Bench of the Karnataka High Court, vide its common Judgment and Order dated 24.11.1994 set aside the Award dated 17.07.1975 and the matter was remitted for fresh consideration by the Arbitrator.
In this fresh round, the Arbitrator passed two Awards both dated 28.02.2000, one dealing with the extent of land, and the other compensation payable. It was held that two of the Suit Lands were not validly acquired by the Respondents. The said Awards dated 28.02.2000 was challenged in Appeal before the Karnataka High Court by the Respondents. During its pendency, the widow of the late B.M. Krishnamurthy and the present Appellants, her children, filed a Writ Petition No. WP 8340/2006, claiming that since the period of requisition had ended and the Suit Lands had not been acquired, the possession of the Respondents after 1987 was untenable in law.
The High Court, vide its Judgment dated 11.01.2008 in Appeal No. MFA 2220/2002 upheld the Arbitral Awards and held that the two Lands out of the three were never acquired by the Authorities-Respondents for the benefit of Appellants herein. However, the High Court left open to the Respondents to take steps in accordance with law, with respect to the Suit Lands for a proper acquisition. The Writ Petition No. WP 8340/2006was also dismissed as the question of ownership had attained finality in favour of the Appellants.
Being aggrieved, the Appellants approached the Supreme Court against the High Court Judgment dated 11.01.2008, whereby their claim to take possession of the Suit Lands was rejected by the High Court.
While dealing with the issue of the right to property, the Supreme Court stated that the legal effect of requisition of immovable property is temporary i.e., for the period the Requisition Order is in operation, the owner loses her possessory rights, even though the title remains undisturbed. Since the deprivation of possession is through the authority of law, in keeping with fair procedure, the law (in this case, the Act) provides for payment of compensation in accordance with predetermined principles. But, taking back the property is a final and it cannot result in expropriation or deprivation of title altogether, unless another process for acquiring the lands is initiated.
It further observed and highlighted the importance of the right under Article 300-A of the Constitution of India. The Supreme Court said that in the context of regulatory enactments, which do not directly result in expropriation or acquisition, but rather, in an oblique block the right to enjoyment of property is unauthorized deprivation, which would result in an indefinite suspension of the right to property.
The Supreme Court noted that the Union’s occupation ceased to be lawful, with the lapse of the Act, in 1987. Yet, it has implacably refused to hand back possession, each time asserting that it has some manner of rights over it. The High Court, while noticing that the Union’s claim had no merits, nevertheless refused to issue any direction for the release of the Suit Lands. The rationale given was that the adjoining areas had been acquired and were used by the Union for defense purposes. It said that, the impugned Judgment granted indefinite time to the Union to take steps to acquire the suit lands. The Union has not chosen to do so these last 12 years. These facts paint a stark, even a sordid picture.
The Supreme Court observed that “although the right to property is not a fundamental right protected under Part III of the Constitution of India, it remains a valuable constitutional right.”
In this view, it held that that the impugned Judgment committed an error in refusing relief to the Appellants. It further said that “33 years is a long enough time, even in India, to be kept away from one’s property. The Respondent Union is directed to hand back possession of the suit lands to the Appellants, within three months”. Thus, the Appeal was allowed.
The Indian Lawyer