Will the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 apply even after its repeal?

The Supreme Court, in the matter of The Executive Engineer v. Mahesh (SLP (C) Nos. 13093-13094 of 2018), held that the provisions of Land Acquisition Act, 1894 prescribing a 2-year period before lapse of land acquisition proceedings will not be applicable after the repeal of the Act and after the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 came into force.

The issue arose before the top court after the State of Maharashtra issued a notification under the 1894 Act for acquisition of 203.86 hectares of land on June 16, 2011 which was followed by publication of declarations, the last of which was dated August 8, 2012.

On October 30, 2014 the Special Land Acquisition Officer purportedly made an award under Section 24(1)(a) of the 2013 Act. The order of the Special Land Acquisition Officer was challenged before the Bombay High Court and the said challenge was allowed.

The Bombay High Court held that the award ought to have been passed within two years from the date of the declaration under Section 6 in terms of Section 11A of the 1894 Act.

The Supreme Court in its judgement observed that, Section 11A requires that an award under Section 11 must be passed within a period of two years from the date of publication of the declaration and if no award is so made, the proceedings for acquisition of land shall lapse.

The Court further observed that, the ‘perseveration of the determination date’ for the computation of compensation for the awards made under Section 24(1)(a) of the 2013 Act is a thought through legislative invocation that curtails time delays and cost escalation of infrastructure projects, as well as checks the post-acquisition notification malpractices, and at the same time ensures that the landowners are entitled to the benefit of the enhanced compensation as per the 2013 Act.

It is apposite to notice that the Constitution Bench in Indore Development Authority V. Manoharlal and Ors. has emphasised that the 2013 Act provides for higher compensation along with provisions for rehabilitation, and that this intended benefit, wherever applicable, should not be taken away. At the same time, on the aspect of legal interpretation, it is observed that full effect has to be given to the provisions contained in Section 24 as it is not for the court to legislate. The courts can and do, in appropriate cases, clear ambiguity in legislations.

The laws relating to limitation have been held to be prospective in the sense that they do not have the effect of reviving the right of action which is already barred on the date of their coming into operation, nor do they have the effect of extinguishing a right of action subsisting on the date. In this sense, the limitation provisions can be procedural in the context of one set of facts and substantive in the context of a different set of facts. Therefore, unless the language of the provision dealing with period of limitation clearly manifests, in express terms or by necessary implication, a contrary intention divesting vested rights, such provision is to be construed as prospective.

The Supreme Court finally held that, the acquisition proceedings had not lapsed and the award was legal and valid, the appeals were allowed.

By - C. George Thomas