SC sets aside MP HC order on disbursal of compensation to land owners

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New Delhi, Jul 8 (PTI) The Supreme Court on Thursday set aside an order of Madhya Pradesh High Court directing disbursal of amount of over Rs 1.96 crore deposited by Defence Ministry with the collector to be given as compensation to land owners in the vicinity of military station in Jabalpur.

A bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar and Sanjiv Khanna, which set aside the order, said that High Court ought not to have ordered for disbursal of amount in a contempt case, which has a limited scope.

The bench said that it is not going into the merit and directed the aggrieved persons, to approach the district court, where reference is pending adjudication for disbursal of the award amount.

The top court also gave liberty to defence secretary Ajay Kumar and other Army officials to file an application before the district court seeking stay of the disbursal of the amount deposited with the collector.

It also asked the aggrieved persons to raise the ground as to the maintainability of the reference proceedings before the district court, which may decide the question on its own merits.

The top court was hearing an appeal filed by Kumar and others through advocate Sachin Sharma against the June 24 order of the High Court.

During the hearing, Senior Advocate R Balasubramanium and advocate Sachin Sharma said that the High Court passed an order for disbursal of the award amount in the contempt proceedings.

Balasubramanian said that they had already filed a reference application against the award which was pending before the district court and a notice had been issued in the proceedings. He said that the High court had exceeded its jurisdiction by ordering for disbursal of the award amount when the statutory remedy had already been availed by the petitioners herein. The senior advocate said that the award had thrice been revised by the collector due to which there was delay in disbursal of the compensation amount.

Justice Khanna asked Balasubramanian whether any determination of the compensation amount was done as required under the Act after the notification for the land was issued.

The senior counsel said that according to their calculation an amount of Rs 35 lakh was payable as compensation to the aggrieved persons.

He said, however, as per the directions of the High Court, the award amount of over Rs 1.97 crore had already been deposited with the collector.

Advocate V Shukla, appearing for the aggrieved person, said that the defence department does not have locus to file a reference application before the district judge.

He said that earlier the department had accepted the award amount and agreed to pay the same to the aggrieved parties.

The top court then allowed the appeal and set aside the order of the High Court.

The plea filed by Kumar and other Army officers before the top court said that they are constrained to file the appeal as the High Court did not appreciated the fact that being aggrieved by the award/ final calculation done by the Collector vide order dated September 27, 2019, they had filed an reference under section 18 of the Works of Defence Act before the District Judge.

The plea said that the High Court went on to direct for release an amount of over Rs 1.96 crore to the opposite parties It said that the impugned order dated June 24, 2021, would cause irreparable loss to the Petitioners and further frustrated their right to challenge the Award passed by the Collector, under section 18 of the Works of Defence Act.

The petitioners said that when the reference case is already pending adjudication then the process of calculation of Award and the entire reference proceedings would become otiose due to the impugned order.

On October 8, last year, the top court had asked the secretary of the Ministry of Defence, who was asked to appear before the High Court in a contempt case to appear virtually in the matter.

The dispute in the matter got triggered after the Central government on May 6, 2016, issued notification imposing restrictions, specified under provisions of the Works of Defence Act, 1903, upon the use and enjoyment of the land lying in the vicinity of Military Station Sukhlalpur, in Jabalpur district of Madhya Pradesh.

The High Court, while disposing of writ petitions filed by certain aggrieved persons had in 2017 directed appropriate steps be taken to determine the damages and payment of damages on account of imposition of restrictions in regard to use of lands within a period of six months.

On November 13, 2018, the Collector (Land Acquisition) Jabalpur, had made an initial award of over Rs 10 crores.

On January 25, 2019, the Collector (Land Acquisition) Jabalpur, while correcting the earlier calculation, made an award of over Rs Six crores without applying the provisions of the Works and Defence Act.

Similarly, on September 27, 2019, the collector had again recalculated the compensation amount of nearly Rs two crores.

On July 31, 2020, the ministry of Defence being aggrieved by the recalculation done by the Collector of nearly Rs two crores contrary to the provisions of Works of Defence Act, filed an application before the appropriate forum.

That matter was on August 17, 2020 was referred by the Collector to the District Judge/Reference Court for adjudication of the issue pertaining to the determination of the Compensation amount. PTI MNL ABA SJK MNL RKS RKS

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