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Bombay High Court
Ramakant Vithobaji Gaikwad vs Government Of Maharashtra And … on 14 September, 2000
Equivalent citations: 2001 (1) BomCR 685, (2001) 1 BOMLR 358, 2000 (4) MhLj 597
Author: S K Shah
Bench: J Patel, S Shah


JUDGMENT

S. K. Shah, J.

1. This Public Interest Litigation is filed by the petitioner who is a citizen of India and tax payer residing in the city of Nagpur. He himself is a legal practitioner. By this petition, he challenges the Order passed by the Revenue Minister of the respondent No. 2 – The Government of Maharashtra on 30.9.1996 in Case No. Lands 4994/1087/Case No. PK 296/J-8. By this Order, the land belonging to the respondent No. 5 was ordered to be restored to him after recovering the amount of compensation paid together with the increased amount of compensation under section 18 and simple interest at the rates prescribed by the Government from time to time.

2. The joint enterprise of Government of India and State Government of Maharashtra, was set up in the name of Vishvesharaiya Regional College of Engineering, Nagpur (hereinafter referred to as “V.R.C.E.”). It was registered under the Societies Registration Act for the purpose of running Regional Engineering College. It was also registered as a Public Trust under the Bombay Public Trusts Act, 1950. The Chairman of the Society was the Education Minister of the State of Maharashtra and the members were appointed from the various departments of the Central Government and State Government and non-official members. For the purpose of setting up the Engineering College, the land was required. As such pursuant to the letter dated 11.9.1961 of the Government of Maharashtra in Education and Social Welfare Department, the Collector, Nagpur acquired the land of Parsodi, P.C. No. 9, Tah. and District Nagpur. The entire land was acquired for the purpose of construction of Regional College of Engineering, Nagpur. This acquired land included the land of the respondent No. 5’s father late Shri Bhalchandra Sonone, bearing Kh. Nos. 48, 49, 51/1, 54, 96, 50/2 and 47, total admeasuring 24.93 acres. The Award was declared on 21.3.1968 and the possession of entire land including the land of late Bhalchandra Sonone was taken on 22.3.1968 and the same was handed over to V.R.C.E. The amount of compensation that was paid, was Rs. 2,35,667.50/-.

3. The V.R.C.E. surrendered the excess land admeasuring, 51.65 acres. Part of this surrendered land was for allotting to the National Fire Service College including the land under encroachment admeasuring 19.20 acres. As a result, the Collector has pointed out in his order dated 2.11.1994 that the only land admeasuring 32.43 acres remained vacant on the spot and that land included the land belonging to the deceased father of the respondent. No. 5. This surrender of the land to the Government by the V.R.C.E. took place in the year 1982. Sometime in the year 1994, the respondent No. 5 applied to the Collector of Nagpur for restoration of the land belonging to him which was acquired, as the same was not utilised for the purpose for which they were acquired within a period of 3 years mainly basing his claim for restoration of the land, on the Government Resolution No. LQN-3137-HI, dated 10.10.1973 of the Revenue and Forest Department (Annexure V). By order dated 13.6.1994, the Collector, Nagpur rejected the application on the following grounds.-

(i) The land is not surrendered by the Acquiring Body within 3 years of acquisition;

(ii) No claim is made within the reasonable time:

(iii) The land in some part is encroached upon by the people;

(iv) Some land is granted to the Institution/departments and the Government has also taken decision in principle to allot the land to various departments;

(v) The Commissioner, Nagpur Division, Nagpur has also proposed vide his letter dated LND-3/CR-5370/8-1, dated 5.1.1991, that this land be reserved for the State Government Offices:

(vi) The land is obviously required for the public purpose. The Government Resolution provides for restoration but Land Acquisition Act does not provide for it once the land is taken in possession by the Acquiring Body;

(vii) The land cannot be brought to original use i.e. agriculture since it is the land within the Corporation Area fit for construction work and there is reservation of Nagpur Improvement Trust under the Development Plan of Nagpur;

(viii) Land holding and income details are not provided by the applicant. The application, therefore, cannot be considered favourably.

4. Thereafter, on 8.9.1994, the respondent No. 5 filed Review Application before the Collector. Nagpur praying for review of his order dated 13.6.1994. Since the Collector did not decide the Review Application early, the respondent No. 5 filed in this Court, the W.P. No. 2864/1994 wherein this Court directed the Collector. Nagpur to dispose of the Review Petition within a month. In view of this direction, the Collector. Nagpur decided the Review Application on 2.11.1994 and rejected the same by the reasoned order by observing as under:

“The Award passed in the year 1968 by the Land Acquisition Officer itself says that the applicant had converted this land into non-agricultural purpose vide Sub-Divisional Officer’s Order dated 17.5.1963 and had filed claim for compensation on this basis. The applicant’s father as above had himself claimed in the year 1968 that the land in question had non-agricultural potential. While filing the preliminary objection, he has filed the copy of order dated 17.5.1963 passed by the Sub-Divisional Officer, Nagpur permitting the diversion of the said land under acquisition for non-agricultural purpose. However, the said order was subsequent to the notification under section 4 and, therefore, his claim for compensation on that basis was not accepted by the Land Acquisition Officer. This clearly proves that in the year 1968 itself or even prior to that this land had non-agricultural potential. Subsequently the first development plan of Nagpur Town was approved by the Government and was made applicable in the year 1976 and in that Development Plan of Nagpur Town, the said land has been earmarked for residential purpose. This shows that in the year 1976 also the land had the non-agricultural potential. In the existing development plan of Nagpur Town also the land has been shown for residential purpose.” and further summing up as under :

“The Government Resolution dated 10.10.1973 is not applicable to the present lands as per para 2(i) of the same Government Resolution, as Vishvesaraiya Regional College of Engineering is Society registered under the Societies Registration Act and not State Government department. As stated in the preamble of the Government Resolution dated 10.10.1973 it is not applicable to lands having non agricultural potential. The lands in question had non-agricultural potential even at the time of acquisition because they were convertise to non-agricultural by the applicant’s predecessor-in-title himself. Even in the Development Plan of Nagpur City approved in 1976 the lands are shown in the residential zone.

No lands are available for being returned to the applicant as the State Government has already allotted them to various departments and institutions under the State and Central Governments. Therefore, the applicant cannot claim relief under the provisions of this Government Resolution. The order passed by the Collector, Nagpur on 13.6.1994 is perfectly legal and needs no interference. Accordingly, the same is maintained and in the result, the instant review application is rejected.”

The respondent No. 5 challenged that order of the Collector before the Revenue Commissioner, Nagpur Division. Nagpur vide Revenue Appeal No. MRC-81/Parsodi-1/94-95. The Revenue Commissioner dismissed that Appeal holding that he had no jurisdiction to decide the matter as Appellate Authority, although he supported the order of the Collector on merits.

5. It is thereafter that the respondent No. 5 filed an Appeal to the Revenue Minister on 14.12.1994. Since this appeal was not decided for a long time, the respondent No. 5 filed writ petition in this Court being Writ Petition No. 1164/95 in which this Court passed an order on 20.4.1995 directing the State Government to decide the appeal in the light of the Judgments of this Court dated 9.10.1990 and 7.12.1994 as also the Government Resolution dated 10.10.1973. Pursuant to this order, the Hon’ble Revenue Minister happened to pass the order on 30.9.1996 which is impugned in this petition.

6. The main contention of the petitioner is that impugned order was passed in total disregard to the Government Resolution dated 10.10.1973 read with Government Resolution dated 19.8.1974. The petitioner himself is an Advocate. He contended that these two Government Resolutions specifically exclude the restoration to the owners the lands which had non-agricultural potential. He submitted that by Government Resolution dated 10.10.1973, the Government had taken policy decision to restore to the owner the land which was acquired but not used for the purpose for which it was acquired during the period of 3 years. He contends that this policy decision was restricted to the restoration of agricultural lands. However, that aspect was not made clear in the Government Resolution dated 10.10.1973 and, therefore, by subsequent Government Resolution dated 19.8.1974 the Government clarified that the lands which were having or which acquired status of non-agricultural potentiality, since after the acquisition of the lands, such lands were excluded from the policy of restoration which was incorporated in the Government Resolution dated 10.10.1973. He also further contended that the Government ignored the fact that disputed lands of the respondent No. 5 were earmarked for public utility services and the Nagpur Improvement Trust in the Development Plan submitted to the Government for approval on 29.2.1996. The Nagpur Improvement Trust being the Planning Authority for the City of Nagpur, its decision is final. He further submitted that in 1976 itself the Development Plan of the City of Nagpur reserved the disputed land for public and semi public use for its offices including the residential zone by minor modification dated 17.12.1983. He further submitted that the lands are in the midst of the Nagpur City and it is surrounded by industrial and residential buildings. Thus, essentially he submitted that the disputed land had acquired non-agricultural potential status and, thus, the disputed lands were not covered by the Government Resolutions dated 10.10.1973 and 19.8.1974 and, therefore, the respondents could not have passed the order

of restoration of the land to the respondent No. 5. He also further submitted that the very fact that the respondent No. 5’s father had claimed compensation claiming acquired land to be having non-agricultural potential at the time of acquisition in 1963 itself clearly indicates that the land had non-agricultural potential even at the time of its acquisition as such it was not covered under the aforesaid Government Resolutions.

7. As against this, the respondent No. 5 has raised the contentions that the petitioner has no locus standi to file this writ petition as he has no personal interest in the land and supported the order passed by the Government of restoration of the land in his favour.

8. The main contest in this petition is by the intervenor-M/s Himalaya Builders and Developers who, it seems, has taken the disputed land for development from respondent No. 5. The various contentions are raised on behalf of the intervenor. However, the main contention is based on the Government Resolution dated 10.10.1973 which required restoration of the land to its owner, if the land is not used for the purpose for which it was acquired, within a period of 3 years. It was further contended on behalf of the intervenor that the land in question also did not have non-agricultural potentiality at the time of its acquisition or at the time of expiry of stipulated period of 3 years within which the land was required to be used for the purpose for which the land was acquired. It was further argued that the order passed by the Hon’ble Revenue Minister was quasi-Judicial order and the same could be interferred with only on the three grounds viz. (i) it was passed by the Authority having no jurisdiction; (ii) that the order itself discloses the patent error on the face of record: or (iii) it was a case of irregular exercise of Jurisdiction and that the view adopted by the authority was the possible view where certiorari will not lie. In support of this contention, it was pointed out on behalf of the intervenor that in Writ Petition No. 1164/1995 filed by the respondent No. 5, this Court had directed the State Government to decide the appeal filed before it by the respondent No. 5 in the light of the Judgments of this Court dated 9.10.1990 and 7.12.1994 and also in the light of the Government Resolution dated 10.10.1973. It was further pointed out that in these Judgments, this Court had observed that when the land was not put to the use for which it was acquired within a period of 3 years, an obligation arises on the part of the Government to restore the land to the erstwhile owner by requiring him to pay double the amount of compensation that he had received. It is in the light of this direction given by this Court in the aforesaid writ petition, the Hon’ble Revenue Minister decided the appeal/revision in exercise of his power under section 357 of the Maharashtra Land Revenue Code, by his order of restoration. It was, therefore, contended that this. Order passed by the Hon’ble Revenue Minister could not be said to be an error or irregular exercise of jurisdiction and that the view taken by the Authority was possible view that the disputed land did not have non-agricultural potentiality at the time of acquisition or on expiry of the stipulated period of 3 years and, therefore, ordered the restoration. In essence, therefore, it was contended that the order passed by the Hon’ble Minister could not be interfered with by this Court.

9. At the outset, it should be pointed out that this is a clear case where the exercise of the jurisdiction by the Revenue Minister was in total

disregard to the Government’s own policy laid down by the Government Resolution dated 10.10.1973 and 19.8.1974 which clearly incorporated the policy of not restoring the land having non-agricultural potentiality to the owner.

10. In view of the controversy involved in this case, it is necessary to look into the aforesaid Government Resolutions dated 10.10.1973. 19.8.1974 as also the provisions of section 16 of the Land Acquisition Act and para 328 of the Manual of Land Acquisiton for the State of Maharashtra. It is an undisputed position in law that once the land is acquired and the possession of the acquired land is taken over by the Government and Award is passed, the acquired land completely vests in the Government without any encumbrance. This is clear from the provisions of section 16 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 which reads as under :

“Section 16. When the Collector has made an Award under section 11, he may take possession of the land which shall thereupon vest absolutely in the Government free from all encumbrances.”

In the present case, it is not disputed that after issuance of the Notification under sections 4 and 6 of the Land Acquisition Act, the possession of the disputed land was taken over by the Collector in exercise of his power under section 11 of the said Act and consequently the disputed land had vested absolutely in the Government free from all encumbrances. The possession of the land was taken over by the Collector on 22.3.1968.

11. Para 328 of the Manual of the Land Acquisition of the State of Maharashtra deals with the disposal of the surplus land. It says that where any acquired land becomes available for disposal by the State Government, it need not necessarily be restored to the person from whom it was originally acquired unless the person concerned is a landless person or is in receipt of income not exceeding Rs. 1000/- p.m. from other sources, in which case the land could be restored to such landless person. It further says that such excess land, if not granted to the original occupant, should be disposed in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Government regarding disposal of the Government waste lands but on payment of price etc. This particular paragraph further makes it clear that the surplus land referred to is only the agricultural land and that it did not apply to the non-agricultural land or the land having non-agricultural potentiality.

12. It appears that with due regard to the provisions of paragraph 328 of the Manual, the Government adopted the Policy and issued Government Resolution dated 10.10.1973. The careful perusal of the said Government Resolution would indicate that it applies only in respect of the surplus agricultural land. The Government Resolution says that these instructions apply only to the disposal of the agricultural lands which are acquired and found surplus or not utilised for the purpose for which they are acquired. This Government Resolution also further clarifies that consequently acquired non-agricultural lands or lands with non-agricultural potentiality which are not utilised for the purpose for which they are acquired, should be continued to be disposed of in accordance with the existing Rules and Government Orders relating to the disposal of the said lands. Therefore, it was clear that this Government Resolution did not apply to the surplus lands with non-agricultural potentiality. It appears that there was some difficulty in implementing the policy underlined in the aforesaid Government Resolution dated 10.10.1973. The point was raised whether the instructions contended in the said Government Resolution were applicable to the acquired lands which were agricultural at the time of acquisition but which subsequently were converted into non-agricultural use or which subsequently gained non-agricultural potentiality. The subsequent Government Resolution dated 19.8.1974 came to be issued clarifying the aforesaid point. The subsequent Government Resolution stated that the Government was pleased to direct that such acquired lands which were agricultural lands at the time of acquisition but which were subsequently liable to be used for commercial or industrial area or such other non-agricultural purpose, as were not connected with the agricultural, or had gained non-agricultural potentiality, should be continued to be disposed of in accordance with the existing Rules and the Government Orders relating to the disposal of such lands. The Government Resolution further clarified that; in other words the orders contained in paras 2 and 3 of the Government Resolution dated 10.10.1973 were not applicable to such lands.

13. From the aforesaid Government Resolution it was a clear policy of the Government that the lands which were non-agricultural lands at the time of its acquisition or which gained non-agricultural potentiality after acquisition, were not covered by the Government Resolution dated 10.10.1973. In the present case, the order passed by the Collector while disposing of the application for restoration filed by the respondent No. 5 in Review Petition clearly indicates that the disputed land had not only gained non-agricultural potentiality subsequent to its acquisition but that non-agricultural potentiality existed even at the time of acquisition of the land. The father of the respondent No. 5 who was the owner of the disputed land, at the time of acquisition, himself had claimed compensation on the ground that the disputed acquired land was non-agricultural land and had non-agricultural potentiality and, therefore, he claimed enhanced compensation on that account. Not only that but in the Award itself the Special Land Acquisition Officer who passed Award, had clearly mentioned this fact as also the fact that the Applicant had converted this land into non-agricultural purpose in view of the order of the Special Divisional Officer passed on 17.5.1963, but the applicant i.e. father of respondent No. 5 could not be paid compensation on that count because the Notification Issued under section 4 of the Land Acquisition Act was prior to that. This has not been controverted by the respondent No. 5. In addition to this, the Collector’s order clearly indicates that subsequently the First Development Plan of Nagpur Town was approved by the Government and was made applicable in 1976 and in that Development Plan of Nagpur Town, the disputed land was earmarked for residential purpose. Furthermore, we had called for the Original Record of the Proceedings from the concerned department of the Mantralaya in respect of the disputed land. Perusal of the proceedings indicates that in the year 1989 final decision was taken right up to the level of the Chief Minister that the land surrendered by the V.R.C.E. should be utilised for the purpose of Government Offices etc. The note indicates that the decision was taken to use this surplus land for the purpose of the offices of the Central Ground Water Board, Telephone Exchange, State Bank of India. Indian Oil Corporation, Central Food Technology Institute, Central Board of Workers Education. Central Government Department of Explosives, Maharashtra State Electricity Board and like other offices of the State Government and Central Government total numbering 16 offices. The note also indicates that this decision shall be communicated to the Collector. Theses fact, therefore, clearly indicate that the disputed land which was surrendered by the V.R.C.E. to the Government, was having non-agricultural potentiality right from the day of its acquisition. The fact, however, remains that at the time of acquisition, it was agricultural land but it did have non-agricultural potentiality. It is clearly indicated from the fact that the father of respondent No. 5 who held the land at the time of acquisition, himself had made an application for conversion of the said land for non-agricultural purpose. It is apparently clear that subsequent thereto the land having been included in the City of Nagpur, it was shown in the Development Plan of Nagpur City and shown having been reserved for being used for the public offices as also for commercial use. It was, therefore, apparently clear from the record that the land had non-agricultural potentiality from the date of its acquisition. It was also clear that the land was not capable of being used for agriculture as it was a vacant land within the meaning of Land Ceiling Act. 1976 and also because it was included in the agglomeration of City of Nagpur.

14. Under these circumstances, the contentions raised on behalf of the respondents that exercise of the jurisdiction by the Hon’ble Revenue Minister was quasi Judicial one and that there was no error on the face of it or any irregularity in exercise of its jurisdiction or that there was a possible view that the land continued to be agricultural land, are not at all acceptable. Initially, the orders passed by the Collector and one passed by him in Review Application, were very much before the Hon’ble Revenue Minister. The entire file was also before him which clearly indicates the decision taken at the higher level of Chief Minister for using the land for the State Government and Central Government Offices. This being the fact, it is difficult to accept the contention that the Hon’ble Revenue Minister had exercised the jurisdiction without any error or irregularity. In fact, exercise of jurisdiction by the Hon’ble Revenue Minister was in total disregard to the Government’s own policy laid down in the Government Resolutions dated 10.10.1973 and 19.8.1974.

15. Much reliance was placed on the Rulings of this Court in Writ Petition No. 85/1986 (order dated 9.10.1990) and in W.P. No- 2864/1994 (order dated 7.10.1994). It was contended that in these two rulings, it was observed that in view of the policy undertaken by the Government in Government Resolution dated 10.10.1973, this Court had held that “an obligation arises on the part of the Government to restore the land to the owner of the acquired land where the said land was not put to use for which it was acquired within a period of 3 years from the date of acquisiton”. The facts in the case before this Court in the aforesaid two writ petitions were entirely different. In both those writ petitions the lands came to be acquired for the extension of Gaothan of Village. Since the lands could not be used for the purpose of extension of the Gaothan of Village and since there was a policy of restoration of such agricultural land to the original owner, the aforesaid observations came to be made and directions came to be given to the Government or the Government Authorities to consider the restoration of the land in pursuance of the Government Resolution dated 10.10.1973.

In the present case, however, the position is entirely different. As discussed above, the disputed land had non-agricultural potentiality right from the inception and, therefore, the Government Resolution dated 10.10.1973 read” with Government Resolution dated 19.8.1974 was not applicable.

16. It was also contended that since the mandamus was issued by this Court in Writ Petition No. 1169/1995, the Hon’ble Revenue Minister was bound to take into consideration the observations of the Court and having done so he committed no error in ordering restoration of this land. This contention is also not acceptable in view of the facts of this case. In the aforesaid writ petition, this Court only gave directions to the State Government to decide the Revision preferred by the petitioner in the light of the Judgment of this Court and also the Government Resolution dated 10.10.1973. Therefore, what was necessary for the Hon’ble Revenue Minister to consider, was not only the observations of this Court but also the Government Resolution dated 10.10.1973 read with Government Resolution dated 19.8.1974. The Hon’ble Revenue Minister had before him the orders passed by the Collector in Appeal as well as in the Review Petition which clearly indicated the status of the land having non-agricultural potentiality right from inception i.e. since the time of acquisition. Therefore, although the direction of this Court was to consider the observations made in the other two writ petitions, it was incumbent on the Hon’ble Revenue Minister to consider the Government Resolution itself and also the fact whether the disputed land did have or not the non-agricultural potentiality before deciding to restore the same. He, however, committed total error, irregularity and non-application of mind in ordering restoration which was obviously in violation of the Government Policy. Order was, therefore, without jurisdiction which was not available in view of the Government Resolution.

17. It was contended that the relevant date for determining the non-agricultural potentiality in terms of the Government Resolution dated 10.10.1973 would be the date on which the lands were invoked for acquisition. This contention is also not acceptable. By the subsequent Government Resolution dated 19.8.1974 it was clarified that the lands which were agricultural lands at the time of acquisition but which had acquired non-agricultural potentiality thereafter, were also excluded from the application of the Government Resolution dated 10.10.1973. In the present case as stated above, in fact, the father of the respondent No. 5 who was the owner at the time of acquisition himself had claimed compensation on the account of the land having non-agricultural potentiality and in fact got the land converted to non-agricultural use in 1963 itself. This itself was indicative of the fact that even at the time of acquisition of the land, it had non-agricultural potentiality. Apart from this, it is not acceptable contention that while considering whether the land has or not the non-agricultural potentiality, the same has to be seen at the time when the land was acquired and not at the time when it is considered for restoration. In the present case, the land was acquired in 1963. The respondent No. 5 had made an application for its restoration in 1994. Therefore, it was necessary to be seen whether the disputed land had acquired non-agricultural potentiality when the demand for its restoration was made by the respondent No. 5 in view of the Government Resolution dated 10.10.1973 and at that time it was amply clear that the land had strong non-agricultural potentiality. This

apart, as discussed above, the land had non-agricultural potentiality at the time of its acquisition itself.

18. In the earlier two writ petitions, this Court has dealt with, in view of the Government Resolution dated 10.10.1973, that there was an obligation on the part of the Government to restore the land to its owner if the land is not used for the purpose for which it was acquired within a period of 3 years. It is to be noted that it is only an obligation and no substantive right was created in the land owner to get back the land. On acquisition and possession of the land having been taken, the land vests absolutely in the Government free from all encumbrances. The Government, therefore, becomes a complete owner of the land. The policy decision as incorporated in Government Resolution dated 10.10.1973 is by way of concession in respect of the agricultural land and not in respect of non-agricultural land or the land having non-agricultural potentiality. The policy of concession would not create any right though in view of the policy the land owner can make a demand of the land but not by way of right. It will still be open for the Government to consider whether in view of the policy the land is fit to be restored to the Land Acquisition or otherwise. In fact, the land which vested in the Government in view of the provision of section 16 of the Land Acquisition Act, it has been held by the Apex Court that if such acquired land could not be used for the purpose for which it was acquired, it should be used for any other public purpose and in case it also not used for such other purpose then the land shall have to be disposed by the public auction. This is the view taken by the Apex Court in a case of State of Kerala and others v. M. Bhaskaran Pillai and another. The relevant observations are as under :

“In view of admitted position that the land in question was acquired under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 by operation of section 16 of the Land Acquisition Act, it stood vested in the State free from all encumbrances. The question emerges whether the Government can assign the land to the erstwhile owners? It is settled law that if the land is acquired for a public purpose, after the public purpose was achieved the rest of the land could be used for any other public purpose. In case there is no other public purpose for which the land is needed, then instead of disposal by way of sale to the erstwhile owner, the land should be put to public auction and the amount fetched in the public auction can be better utilised for the public purpose envisaged in the Directive Principles of the Constitutions.”

Such is also the guidelines laid down in para 328 of the Manual. Under these circumstances, this is a clear case where the Hon’ble Revenue Minister has acted beyond his jurisdiction and in total disregard to the Government Policy laid down in Government Resolutions dated 10.10.1973 and 19.8.1974. This is more so because he had totally disregarded the decision taken not only at his level but at the higher level of Chief Minister in the year 1989 to use the land for public purpose and setting up the Central and State Government Offices. Once such decision is already taken, it was necessary to put the matter at the same level for taking different decisions and the Hon’ble Revenue Minister could not have taken decision for restoration in total disregard to the earlier decision taken by the Government.

19. The impugned order also cannot be sustained because it is obviously against the public interest. The land which was reserved for the purpose of construction of Central and State Government Offices and when it was shown in the Development Plan to be earmarked for residential purpose also, its disposal by way of restoration to its original owner, was against the public interest. Moreover, directing restoration of the land on repayment of compensation paid to the owner together with increased amount of compensation paid under section 18 of the Land Acquisition Act as also the simple interest at Government rate was also against the public interest. The land was acquired in 1963 and it was ordered to be restored to the owner in 1996. It is needless to say that not only the land had acquired strong non-agricultural potentiality but also had escalated market value which was obviously not ordered to be recovered from the owner. This is also against the public interest. Under these circumstances, the impugned order cannot be sustained and the same shall have to be set aside.

20. It was strongly contended that the petitioner had no locus standi to file such petition when he himself had no interest in the disputed land. However, this contention is also devoid of any substance. The petitioner is a citizen of India and resident of Nagpur City and tax payer. When the land having strong non-agricultural potentiality and having been reserved for public purpose being disposed of in violation of the public, the petitioner being a local resident and tax payer can challenge the action of the Government which was in violation of the public interest. In almost the similar situation, the Division Bench of this Court, in a case of Bhupal Anna Vibhute v. Collector of Kolhapur and others, as follows :-

Then it was contended on behalf of the respondents that the petitioner has no locus standi to file this petition. This argument also should not detain us any longer for now the scope of public interest litigation has been expanded by the judicial pronouncements. Several judgments were cited before us on both the sides on the question of petitioner’s locus standi to file the present petition. However, we do not think it necessary for us to refer to all of them. The petitioner before us is the resident of Jaisingpur. He is a tax payer. He is a citizen of India. In the case of Municipal Council, Ratlam v. Vardhichand, and quite a large number of Judgments on that line, it has now been well settled that a rate payer of a local authority can also challenge an illegal action of that authority. Being a tax payer he is closely connected and directly interested in proper administration of the local authority. Applying the same principle here, the petitioner being a citizen of India and a resident of State of Maharashtra is clearly entitled to see to it that the State of Maharashtra in its actions behave in a manner which is warranted by the Constitution and the laws and if it violates the Constitution or the laws he would have every right to draw the attention of the Court, by filing a PIL. to those illegalities committed by the State of Maharashtra.”

21. Under these circumstances, the writ petition is allowed, the impugned order dated 30.9.1996 passed by the Hon’ble Revenue Minister, Government of Maharashtra in case No. Land/4994/1087/Case No. PK 296/J-8 is quashed and set aside.


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