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The Supreme Court Tuesday said there would be far less litigation relating to land takeover if governments paid reasonable compensation to landowners.

The court said that landowners whose land was acquired had a ‘legitimate grievance’ that the government took away their land for peanuts ‘in the name of development’.

‘If the state takes steps for awarding reasonable compensation (for acquiring lands) then people will not take recourse to litigation,’ said the apex court bench of Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice C.K. Prasad.

‘In a large number of (land acquisition) cases it is a question of compensation,’ Justice Singhvi said after hearing arguments by senior counsel Dhruv Mehta on a petition challenging the Delhi government’s decision to invoke the urgency provisions for acquiring land in Mandoli village in east Delhi for setting up two power sub-stations.

The court said what a landowner gets by way of compensation is Rs.5,000-6,000 per square yard whereas the market price of the same is Rs.25,000 per square yard or more. The price would still be much higher if the same was located in New Delhi, said Justice Singhvi. Taking a dig at the government for delay in disbursing the compensation, Justice Prasad said delay in disbursement of compensation and corresponding escalation in the market price of the acquired land gave a ‘heart burning’ to people who were dispossessed of their lands.

The court noted that litigation in land acquisition matters led to ‘delays in the (execution of) projects and (consequently) escalates the costs’.

The court said that there should be negotiated settlements between the landowners and the government only then would projects take less time.

The court told Additional Solicitor General (ASG) P.P. Malhotra that ‘instead of litigation you can suggest to the government a negotiated route’.

The court told Malhotra that there should be two meetings. First one amongst the officials to decide if they were willing to chart the negotiation route and then with the landowners.The court said that if the negotiated way, as suggested by it, was not acceptable to the government then it would decided the matter on merit.

The court was hearing a petition by Darshan Lal Nagpal and others challenging the Delhi High court order of Jan 14 in which it upheld the acquisition of their lands by the Delhi government in east Delhi.

The government invoked the urgency clause of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 which allows the suspension of a provision for inviting objections from landowners before takeover. The high court also imposed a cost of Rs.25,000 on the petitioner landowners.In the east Delhi case, land acquisition proceedings were initiated in December 2005 but the actual notification for taking over the land was issued in December 2009.

Petitioners’ counsel told the apex court that the state government should not have invoked the urgency clause in this case.

While suggesting a negotiated channel for settling the compensation claim, the court permitted the power company Delhi Transco to lay a road on the said land for limited purpose of transporting the sub-station equipment to its site.

The court said that if it allowed the plea by the landowners, then the company will dismantle the road at its own expense.

The matter would come up for hearing Monday.

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