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The Supreme Court has held that a state government will have to account for its inactions and cannot make people suffer for it, ruling in a Bihar land owner’s case that was re-opened in Patna High Court simply because an earlier verdict had not been published in government records.

‘If the state government did not follow its duty, it has to suffer and the appellant cannot be made to suffer on account of the inaction shown by the state government either deliberately or otherwise,’ said an apex court bench of Justice V.S. Sirpurkar and Justice Cyriac Joseph in their judgment on Friday.

Setting aside a high court verdict of a single judge and a division bench, Sirpurkar said: ‘We do not approve of such an approach as it would be patently unjust to give premium to the state government on its inaction.’

The case related to how much of Bihar resident Bhagwati Singh’s land could be covered under the state land ceiling law.

On Sep 9, 1970, when Bhagwati Singh’s land was covered under ceiling laws, he had a son, Pitambar Singh, who in turn had two sons Rabinder Kumar Singh and Jitender Kumar Singh.

They were what is called a Mitakshara joint family with total land holding of 33.95 acres. Under the land ceiling laws, they were entitled to 18 acres of land and had about 15.95 acres of surplus land.

It was contended by Pitambar Singh that in 1970, they had no surplus land as at that point of time his son Rabinder Singh was a major and not part of his family. He said Rabinder Singh being a major had a distinct identity and was entitled to his share.

In the course of prolonged litigation, the question of Rabinder Singh’s age as on Sep 9, 1970 was referred to an appellate authority, which held that on the said date he was a major and thus entitled to his share of land.

This order was not challenged by the state government and in due course attained finality. However, the finding was not published by the state government.

The Patna High Court, while recognising the finding of the appellate authority that Rabinder Singh was a major and entitled to his share of land, re-opened the entire issue saying under the amended provision of the Bihar land reform statute, the state government could do so.

It was this finding of the Patna High Court by the single judge and the division bench that the Supreme Court set aside.

The apex court held it was incumbent upon the state government to publish the appellate authority’s order and it could not make others suffer for its inaction.

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