The Allahabad High Court recently directed the Principal Secretary of Uttar Pradesh (UP) to conduct inquiry against officials of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) for delaying, for years, the award of compensation in respect of land acquired from nine villages for a highway project [Rajesh Chandra v State & Ors].
A bench of Justices Sunita Agarwal and Justice Manjive Shukla passed the order on a plea by the land holders of one such village, who were dispossessed of their landed property for the highway project.
Notably, the Court observed that the compensation due to these persons was yet to be paid, even though the NHAI construction on the land was now completed. Such a delay violated the right to property under Article 300A of the Constitution, the Court said.
“The fact remains that the land holders of village Bheekampur, the land subject matter of dispute, herein, along with 8 other villages, had been dispossessed/ deprived of their landed property and the construction of National Highway-II between the aforesaid section of the road has been completed without payment of compensation to them, which is nothing but a clear violation to the constitutional mandate under Article 300-A of the Constitution of India,” the Court said.
The Court proceeded to order the Principal Secretary (Revenue), UP, Lucknow, to conduct an inquiry into the land acquisition carried out by the NHAI officials without paying compensation.
The Court said that this amounted to dispossessing the landholders of their property in contravention of the Constitution as well as the National Highways Act, 1956.
Hence, the Court has ordered a probe into the involvement of NHAI officials in the matter, particularly the Project Director, Project Implementation Unit, Kanpur, NHAI and the District Level Authorities, specially the competent authority within the meaning of National Highways Act, 1956.
“The inquiry report shall be shared with the concerned Minister of the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways, Government of India, New Delhi and action against the guilty officials accordingly, shall be initiated both on the civil and criminal side,” the Court ordered.
The inquiry report and the action taken against the guilty officials should be submitted on the next date of hearing fixed, that is April 3, the Court added.
The Court was informed that the land in question had been acquired by NHAI for widening a two-lane highway into a four-lane. The proceedings commenced around 2015-2016. A notice inviting objections was issued in 2018.
In response, the petitioners approached the competent authority for the disbursement of compensation, the Court was told. However, no compensation was declared or awarded to the petitioners, despite the NHAI eventually finishing their construction on the acquired land.
In a counter affidavit, the State told the Court that the land acquisition was carried out in respect of land in thirty-seven villages, of which compensation remained to be paid to nine villages.
The Court found that the concerned authorities who were responsible for preparing the award and paying compensation to the land-owners were shifting the blame on each other.
The Court criticised such conduct by the State. Among other factors, the bench pointed out that the State did not take any steps in furtherance of paying the compensation for over three years until a writ petition was filed in the High Court.
“We may note at this juncture that the authorities have slept over the matter for a period of more than 3 years since after the notices were issued in the year 2018 and they were reactivated only when the present writ petition has been filed,” the Court said.
The Court, therefore, ordered that the process of fixing the compensation payable in respect of the landholders in the nine villages, be completed.
The Court added that any financial loss caused to the government on account of the delay in awarding compensation must be recovered from the officials found guilty in the inquiry ordered.
“It goes without saying that the financial loss caused to the State and the Central Government, if any, in the matter, on account of the delay in determination of compensation for the land holders due to levy of of interest on the amount determined under the award, shall be recoverable from the personal pockets of the guilty officials,” the Court said.
Advocates Manoj Kumar Singh and Devesh Kumar Singh represented the petitioner while advocates Neeraj Dube and Sushil Kumar Pandey represented the respondents.