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The Supreme Court has said that “delays and laches” is one of the important factors which a high court must bear in mind while exercising discretionary powers under Article 226 of constitution.

“In relation to land acquisition proceedings, the court should be loathe to encourage stale litigation as the same might hinder projects of public importance”, the apex court said.

“The courts are expected to be very cautious and circumspect about exercising their discretionary jurisdiction under Article 226 or Article 32 of constitution if there has been inordinate unexplained delay in questioning the validity of acquisition of land,” the court said.

This was stated by Justice D.K. Jain and Justice T.S. Thakur in a judgment delivered Friday.

Speaking for the bench, Justice Jain said: “If there is such negligence or omission on the part of the petitioner to assert his right which, taken in conjunction with the lapse of time and other circumstances, causes prejudice to the opposite party, the high court must refuse to invoke its extra-ordinary jurisdiction and grant relief to the writ petitioner.”

The apex court judgment said this while setting aside the impugned judgment of the Madras High Court of April 18, 2001 by which it set aside the notification of Tamil Nadu housing and urban development department of March 17, 1979.

Through the notification the department sought to acquire 220 acres of land in West Madurai, Ponmein, and Madakulam for constructing houses for the poor under the Ellis Nagar Development Scheme.

The award for the acquisition of 220 acres of land was issued April 28, 1982.

M. Meiyappan and others who were affected by this land acquisition moved the high court in December 1997 challenging the acquisition of land.

“At the outset, we must state that on the facts of this case, the high court was not justified in entertaining the writ petition. In our opinion, the writ petition must fail on the short ground that it had been filed 16 years after the award was announced by the collector,” the judgment said.

The high court should have dismissed the writ petition at the threshold on the ground of “delay and laches” — or the failure to do something at the proper time — on the part of Meiyappan and 16 others whose lands were acquired, the judgment said.

The judges said Meiyappan and others “did not furnish any explanation as to why it took them 16 years to challenge the acquisition of their lands”.

“We have no hesitation in holding that the high court ought not to have entertained the writ petition of the respondents after 16 years of the passing of the award,” the apex court said.

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