Assam Industrial Development … vs Gillapukri Tea Company Limited on 28 January, 2021


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Supreme Court of India

Assam Industrial Development … vs Gillapukri Tea Company Limited on 28 January, 2021

Author: S. Abdul Nazeer

Bench: L. Nageswara Rao, S. Abdul Nazeer, Hon’Ble Ms. Malhotra

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                                                REPORTABLE



            IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

              CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION



           CIVIL APPEAL NO(S). 251-252 of 2021
     (Arising out of S.L.P.(C) No.14266-14267 of 2019)



ASSAM INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT
CORPORATION LTD.                          …APPELLANT(S)


                          VERSUS


GILLAPUKRI TEA COMPANY LIMITED
& ORS. ETC.                               …RESPONDENT(S)


                      JUDGMENT

S. ABDUL NAZEER, J.

1. Leave granted.

2. Assam Industrial Development Corporation Limited has

filed these appeals challenging the judgment and order in Writ

Appeal Nos. 219 & 220 of 2017 dated 14.03.2019 whereby the

Division Bench of the High Court of Guwahati has dismissed the
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said appeals confirming the order of the Learned Single Judge in

Review Petition Nos. 79 & 80 of 2016.

3. Brief facts necessary for disposal of these appeals are as

under.

4. In order to set up a plastic park, the Government of Assam

decided to acquire a portion of the land belonging to the first

respondent situated at Gillapukri Tea Estate, Village Gillapukri,

Tinsukia, Assam. The Government of Assam, in exercise of the

power vested in it under Section 4 of the Land Acquisition Act,

1894 (for short ‘L.A. Act’) issued a notification dated

04.08.2008, which was published in the Assam Gazette on

08.08.2008, expressing its intention to acquire 1,166 biggas, 1

katha, 14 lessas of land of the aforesaid Gillapukri Tea Estate.

The proceedings being L.A Case No. 1 of 2008 were also

initiated for the purpose of acquisition before the District

Collector, Tinsukia and, for that purpose, declaration dated

17.06.2009 in terms of Section 6(1) of the L.A. Act was

published in the Assam Gazette. The appellant was appointed

as the nodal agency to deal with the acquisition proceedings

vide appointment letter dated 24.06.2009.

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5. The Deputy Commissioner and Collector, District Tinsukia,

addressed a letter dated 30.01.2010 to the Principal Secretary

to the Government of Assam, Revenue Department to seek

approval of the award and the land acquisition estimate which

were enclosed therewith in the prescribed Form No. 15 and

Form No. 5 respectively. In response, the Commissioner and

Secretary to the Government of Assam, Revenue Department,

addressed a letter dated 05.03.2010 to the Deputy

Commissioner whereby approval, as sought vide the aforesaid

letter dated 30.01.2010, was granted. As will be seen in the

following paragraphs, the controversy between the parties

before us is whether this letter was approval of both the award

and the estimate or only the estimate. Thereafter, the owner of

the land, i.e. the first respondent herein, addressed a letter

dated 05.05.2010 to the Commissioner seeking reference of the

matter to the District Judge, Tinsukia, under Section 18 of the

L.A. Act for reassessment of the compensation awarded to it. It

is contended that other similar applications were also received

from different families at different levels. It is further contended

that in the letter dated 05.05.2010, the first respondent

admitted that it had received a sum of Rs. 4.95 crores on
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08.04.2010 by a crossed cheque immediately after the letter

for approval dated 05.03.2010 was passed by the

Commissioner. It is also contended that vide possession

certificate dated 21.05.2010, possession was delivered to the

Deputy Commissioner, and thereafter on 11.06.2010,

possession of the land was handed over to the appellant by the

Deputy Commissioner.

6. The first respondent has not disputed the issuance of the

preliminary and final notification. However, it is contended that

no award was approved pursuant to the letter dated

05.03.2010. It is the first respondent’s case that vide this letter,

only the land acquisition estimate was approved and not the

award. This, in the first respondent’s view, led to lapsing of the

proceedings and initiation of fresh acquisition proceedings in

2012 which culminated in approval of the award for the first

time on 04.01.2014. For this purpose, a fresh notification under

Section 4 of the L.A. Act was published on 07.08.2012 and a

declaration was also issued on 20.11.2012. Thereafter, the

Commissioner issued a notice purportedly under Section 9 of

the L.A. Act to the persons interested in the land to submit their

objections and claims. On 04.01.2014, a fresh award was
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passed and the Deputy Secretary, Government of Assam,

Revenue Department addressed a letter dated 06.01.2014 to

the Deputy Commissioner conveying approval of the said fresh

award. The first respondent contends that a comparison of this

approval letter dated 06.01.2014 with the approval letter dated

05.03.2010 under the original acquisition proceedings would

clearly indicate that under the letter dated 05.03.2010, only the

estimate was approved and not the award. Since the award

under the fresh proceedings was approved and made after

coming into force of the Right to Fair Compensation and

Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and

Resettlement Act, 2013 (for short ‘2013 Act’), the first

respondent approached the Deputy Commissioner to seek a

fresh award by determining the compensation payable in terms

of Section 24(1)(a) of the 2013 Act.

7. The first respondent has denied the claim of the appellant

that an award had been approved on 05.03.2010 and has

mainly rested its case on the letter dated 21.07.2012

addressed by the Deputy Secretary, Government of Assam,

Revenue Department to the Deputy Commissioner wherein the

Deputy Secretary admitted to not having drawn the award
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within two years from the date of publication of the declaration

under the original acquisition proceedings. The first respondent

has also relied upon the letter dated 06.01.2014 sent by the

Deputy Secretary to the Government of Assam which, as per

the first respondent, suggests that no award had been

approved under the original acquisition proceedings.

8. On the contrary, the State Government has taken a stand

that an award was approved by the State Government on

05.03.2010 and that the same had been made within two years

of the declaration. It is also contended that pursuant to the

award, possession of the land was taken from the first

respondent by the acquiring authority and the land was then

handed over to the appellant. It was also submitted that the

entire compensation had been paid to the first respondent. The

State Government contends that the need for an additional

award arose only because some of the land owners of the land

initially proposed to be acquired were left out in the original

award that was approved on 05.03.2010.

9. Appearing for the appellant Shri Jayant Bhushan, learned

senior counsel has submitted that the award had been passed

in Form No. 15 of the Assam Land Acquisition Manual and was
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approved by the State on 05.03.2010. Possession of the land

was also handed over by the first respondent to the acquiring

authority on 21.05.2010 and was thereafter handed over to the

appellant on 11.06.2010. Shri Bhushan submitted that the

compensation was also received by the first respondent and, in

fact, the first respondent had also sought enhancement of the

compensation allowed under the said award. It is Shri

Bhushan’s submission that once the land stood vested in the

State, it could not have been acquired again. Therefore, any

issuance of fresh notification under Section 4 and 6 or even

preparing of a fresh award by the State Government in respect

of the first respondent’s land will be non est or infructuous. He

further submits that the letters dated 21.07.2012 and

06.01.2014 relied upon by the High Court could not have had

the effect of re-acquiring the land in question since it already

stood vested in the State Government.

10. Learned counsel appearing for the State of Assam has

supported the stand of the appellant.

11. However, Shri Senthil Jagadeesan, learned counsel for the

first respondent submits that the aforesaid two letters would

conclusively establish that no approval to an award was
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granted by the State Government under the original acquisition

proceedings. It is his submission that the two aforesaid letters

dated 21.07.2012 and 06.01.2014 which were relied upon by

the Division Bench of the High Court would clearly establish the

same. Therefore, he prays for dismissal of these appeals.

12. We have carefully considered the submissions of the

learned counsel made at the Bar and perused the materials

placed on record. Having regard to the contentions urged, the

crucial question for consideration is whether an award in

respect of the first respondent’s land was approved by the

State Government on 05.03.2010. Needless to say, if the award

was not approved on 05.03.2010, but rather on 06.01.2014 as

contended by the first respondent, then the 2013 Act will be

applicable and the first respondent will be eligible to receive

compensation in accordance therewith.

13. To determine whether the award had indeed been

approved on 05.03.2010, we first have to examine the letter

dated 30.01.2010 through which the State Government’s

approval of the award was sought by the Deputy Commissioner.

It is uncontested that vide this letter both the award and the

land acquisition estimate were sent to the State Government
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for its approval. It is pertinent to note that the award was in the

format of Form No. 15 which is the statutorily prescribed form

for a land acquisition award under the Assam Land Acquisition

Manual. This is also true of the land acquisition estimate which

was as per the prescribed format of Form No. 5. As such, the

only further action required of the State Government was to

approve the award which was already in the statutorily

prescribed form. This is precisely what was done vide the letter

dated 05.03.2010 issued by the Deputy Secretary to the

Government of Assam, Revenue Department.

14. This letter dated 05.03.2010 was issued in response to the

letter dated 30.01.2010, whereunder approval of the award and

the land acquisition estimate was sought. While this letter only

expressly mentions the land acquisition estimate and not the

award, a combined reading of this letter with the preceding

letter dated 30.01.2010 and the subsequent conduct of the

parties, including the first respondent, make it evident that the

award stood approved by this letter of 05.03.2010. It is

noteworthy that copies of both the letters of 30.01.2010 and

05.03.2010 were also addressed to the Industries & Commerce

Department of the Government of Assam. Vide the initial letter
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of 30.01.2010, the said Department was requested to arrange

balance funds for making payment to the land owners as per

the award. In furtherance of this, vide the letter of 05.03.2010,

the said Department was directed to place the balance

estimated fund at the disposal of the Deputy Commissioner. We

find strength in the appellant’s submission that if the award

which had been sent for approval alongwith the estimate had

not been approved by the said letter dated 05.03.2010, this

direction for making funds for payment to landowners available

to the Deputy Commissioner would not have been called for.

This view is fortified by the subsequent conduct of the parties,

as particularly evinced by the below mentioned actions.

15. It is undisputed that the award amount was indeed made

available to the Deputy Commissioner and the awarded sum

was duly paid to and received by the first respondent. Not only

did the first respondent receive compensation pursuant to the

award, it in fact sought enhancement of the same vide its

reassessment petition dated 05.05.2010 u/s 18 of the L.A. Act

addressed to the Deputy Commissioner. It is also not contested

that vide possession certificate dated 21.05.2010, the first

respondent handed over possession to the Deputy
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Commissioner and that on 11.06.2010 possession of the land

was ultimately handed over to the appellant by the Deputy

Commissioner. What clearly emerges from the above is that

after the letter dated 05.03.2010, it was the common belief of

the State Government, the appellant as well as the first

respondent that the award had been approved and that now

actions subsequent thereto viz. payment and receipt of

compensation, handover of possession, seeking reassessment

of the compensation were needed to be undertaken.

16. It is clear from the materials on record that the plastic

project for which the subject Land Acquisition was initiated has

already been developed on the acquired land including

boundary wall, entrance gate, laying of roads, drains and

electrical distribution networks, electrical substation, industrial

sheds and warehouses.

17. In the above scenario, the arguments of the first

respondent are untenable. Once the award has been approved,

compensation has been paid thereunder and possession of the

land has been handed over to the Government, acquisition

proceedings could not have been reopened, including by way of

re-notification of the already acquired land under Section 4 of
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the L.A. Act by the Government. Contrary to the first

respondent’s contention, the question of lapsing under Section

24 of the L.A. Act could not have arisen in this case once the

award was approved on 05.03.2010.

18. So far as the second set of acquisition proceedings are

concerned, without addressing the factual veracity of the State

Government’s contention that the second award was meant to

be only in respect of landowners not covered by the original

award, we are of the opinion that it would not have been

possible for the State Government to initiate acquisition

proceedings in respect of already acquired land such as that of

the first respondent herein. This position has been affirmed by

this Court in D. Hanumanth SA & Ors. v. State of

Karnataka and Ors.1 in the following terms:

“17. Even otherwise, if land already stands
acquired by the Government and if the same
stands vested in the Government there is no
question of acquisition of such a land by issuing a
second notification for the Government cannot
acquire its own land. The same is by now settled
by various decision of this Court in a catena of
cases.

18. In State of Orissa v. Brundaban Sharma,2 this
Court has held that the Land Acquisition Act does
not contemplate or provide for the acquisition of
any interest belonging to the Government in the
land on acquisition This position was reiterated in

1 (2010) 10 SCC 656.

2 1995 Supp (3) SCC 249.

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a subsequent decision of this Court in Meher Rusi
Dalal v. Union of India3
in paras 15 and 16 of the
said judgment, this Court has held that the High
Court clearly erred in setting aside the order of
the Special Land Acquisition Officer declining a
reference since it is settled law that in land
acquisition proceedings the Government cannot
and does not acquire its own interest. While
laying down the aforesaid law, this Court has
referred to its earlier decision in Collector of
Bombay v. Nusserwanji Rattanji Mistri4

The recent decision of the Constitution Bench of this Court in

Indore Development Authority v. Manoharlal and Ors.5

has also affirmed that once possession is taken by the State,

the land vests absolutely with the State and the title of the

landowner ceases. We find no reason to deviate from this

settled position of law and thus are unable to agree with the

High Court’s reliance on the letters dated 21.07.2012 and

06.01.2014 to nullify the original award and allow fresh

acquisition proceedings in respect of the first respondent’s land

which had already been acquired and has been under the

possession of the appellant since 11.06.2010.

19. Therefore, for the foregoing reasons, the appeals succeed

and are accordingly allowed. The orders impugned herein are

3 (2004) 7 SCC 362.

4 AIR 1955 SC 298 : (1955) 1 SCR 1311.

5 (2020) 8 SCC 129.

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set aside. Pending applications, if any, shall stand disposed of.

The parties shall bear their own costs.

…….……………………………J.

(S. ABDUL NAZEER)

…….……………………………J.

(SANJIV KHANNA)

New Delhi;

January 28, 2021.



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