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This article is written by Akshat Sharma, pursuing Certificate Course in Introduction to Legal Drafting: Contracts, Petitions, Opinions & Articles from LawSikho.

Table of Contents

Introduction

On July 3, 2021, the Bombay high court delivered a striking judgement in Bhagauji S/o Nathaji Maind and Ors v. The State of Maharashtra and Ors. case on the issue of construction of a national highway that abides the right to property as per Article 300A of the constitution which describes that a person should not be deprived of his property that has been saved by the authority of law. In this case, Petitioners held agricultural areas adjacent to a National Highway, as well as residential dwellings, wells, fruit trees, a bore-well, and other facilities, all of which were also near to the National Highway. Petitioners stated that they are not opposed to the projected road widening, but that the authority should procure their particular properties as per the due procedure of law. The crucial question upheld here is that whether under Article 300A Property Rights are considered as Human and Constitutional Rights?

The (Forty-fourth Amendment) Act of 1978 was intended to modify the right to property from a basic right to a legal one. This property right, guaranteed by Article 300-A, will be accessible against executive action rather than legislative action. It has been determined that it is both a human and a constitutional right. In this case analysis, we will see that under the guise of industrial growth, no welfare state has the right to expatriate a person and deprive him of his civil liberties.

Facts of the case

  • The road in question was small earlier and it came to be converted into State Highway without payment of any compensation to the petitioners while expansion of State Highway. The road was known as Jalna-Wadigodri.
  • The petitioners claim that the current road width is approximately 12 metres. The respondents just issued a letter of award and began expanding the road to 30 metres without having to acquire land.
  • While converting the small road into Highway No. 176, the authorities failed to initiate acquisition proceedings, depriving the owners of the seized lands of compensation. The respondents have begun a phase-by-phase upgrade of the route in question from Sillod to Wadigodri.
  • The petitioners are concerned about the Dhangar Pimpri to Wadigodri phase, for which the authorities are attempting to take ownership of their lands by force under the guise of a resolution about nearby road lands that do not require purchase. 
  • State officials, based on the current petitioners, cannot seize a landowner’s property without following correct legal procedures. Since all of the petitioners are in the same situation, the respondent authorities’ action in seizing forceful control of the petitioners’ property for road widening by invoking the Government Resolution breaches Article 300A.
  • The Central Authorities claim that they are rehabilitating existing highways with the same alignment and bringing them up to National Highway standards, rather than building new roads. The road’s upgrade to the National Highway standard will benefit local farmers by allowing them to transport agricultural produce from remote locations and rural areas to urban areas.
  • Petitioners are forbidden by the principles of delay and laches, according to the State Authorities. It is also subject to the statute of limitations. The roadwork has also begun and is nearing completion. The remaining work must be completed for the sake of the general public.

Issues raised in the case

The issues that were raised before the high court of Bombay are as follows:

  1. Whether the width of the National Highway No. 753-H is being enhanced by the authorities from 12 to 30 meters, without due process of law?
  2. Whether there is an obligation of compensation under article 300 A?

Issue 1

The State Highway should be 30 metres wide, according to rules. It was a District Road in question. The District Road’s standard width is 12 metres. In 1967, the road in question was designated as a State Highway by a notification dated April 19th. The question arises as to when District Road was designated as a State Highway. Now, let us return to the facts of the issue at hand. Certainly, the road measurement activity will take place in the presence of the petitioners and the respondents/authorities. If the above-mentioned villages’ roads are measured by an appropriate institution under the supervision of the District Collector, Jalna, the disagreement will be resolved. On the other hand, it would make it easier for both parties to reach an amicable agreement on the road’s width.

The bench stated that just supplying maps of specific villages and photocopies of road development plans may not be useful in reaching a decision and recording a decision to that effect, since it would be an error. The Bench additionally stated that the road width varied from 30 metres in some locations to less than 30 metres in others. The Constitution (Forty-Fourth Amendment) Act of 1978 made the right to property no longer a fundamental right, but it remained a human right in a welfare state and a constitutional right under Article 300 A. Article 300 A states that no one’s property can be taken away from them unless they have legal authorization to do so.

Issue 2

The High Court stated that, while the need to pay compensation is not clearly stated in Article 300 A, it could be inferred from it. Depriving people of their immovable property, the High Court ruled, was a blatant breach of Article 21 of the Constitution. It is a well-settled position of law that the right to property is a human right and a person cannot be deprived of his property save by authority of law. The Apex Court declared in Vidya Devi Vs. Himachal Pradesh and Ors (SLP No. 6066/1995) that in a democratic society controlled by the rule of law, the State should not strip a citizen of their property without legal sanction. The state, as a welfare state controlled by the rule of law, cannot bestow upon itself any status other than that which the Constitution grants. Under the guise of industrial growth, no welfare state has the right to uproot a person and deprive him of his fundamental/constitutional/human rights. There should be no arbitrariness in any choice in a society ruled by the rule of law. The High Court ruled that there was no conclusive evidence that the road width was 30 metres and that there was no question of taking petitioners’ estates.

Arguments presented by both parties

  1. It would not be legitimate for the State Government/Central Government Authority to take control of any landowner without following due process of law, according to the petitioners’ learned counsel. The action of the respondent authorities in taking forcible control of the petitioners’ lands to widen the road is a blatant violation of Article 300A of the Indian Constitution.
  2. They argued that under Article 300A of the Indian Constitution, the petitioners are entitled to just compensation. Simply changing the status of the road does not give the government authority to take possession of the nearby landowners’ property without first going through the legal process.
  3. The petitioners contend that the width of the road in question at respective villages is approximately 12 metres, whilst the respondents-authorities have said that the road’s width is approximately 30 metres.
  4. The petitioners’ learned counsel adamantly maintained that the work being done in their communities is aimed at improving the route. Under the guise of road improvement, the government is increasing the width of the road.
  5. Discovered submissions of National Highway and learned Standing Counsel for the Union of India Pleader of the Maharashtra State Government/State Authority, it is claimed that the authorities are not building a new road but rather renovating an existing one. It is the conversion of a state highway to a national highway.
  6. According to the road development plan, the road construction is within 30 metres. Because the road is being upgraded within 30 metres, there is no need for the petitioners to worry about land acquisition. They argued that the petitioners are attempting to recover compensation for property acquired long ago for the conversion of a road into a State Highway.

Summary of court decision and judgement

Based on the foregoing considerations and debate. Conclude that the authorities should provide specific directives to the authorities regarding the measuring of the road in question at respective villages in the presence of both sides. The respondents demographic shall, as soon as possible and preferably within four months, conduct measurements of National Highway No. 753-H (previously known as State Highway No. 176) at villages Shahapur, Dadegaon, Dhakalgaon, and Math Tanda through appropriate authority in the presence of both sides.

If the width of the road in the respective villages is found to be 30 metres at the moment of measurement, the petitioners’ adjacent lands will not be acquired. If the width of the road is less than 30 metres at the moment of measurement, the State and Central authorities must acquire the land under the legislation to the amount necessary by them. In order to avoid any misunderstanding, the road measurement exercise in the above-mentioned villages shall be carried out under the supervision of the District Collector, Jalna.

These writ petitions have been dismissed as a result of the above instruction.

The bench has clearly made the judgement that in a welfare state, statutory authorities are required not merely to provide adequate compensation, but also to rehabilitate those who have been wronged. Non-fulfilment of their obligations would compel the uprooted persons to become vagabonds or engage in anti-national activities, as such emotions would be fostered in them as a result of their mistreatment. This expression has clearly safeguard their civil rights. The Apex Court held in the case of Pradyumna Mukund Kokil vs. State of Maharashtra and others, reported in 2015 (4) All M.R. 983, that it would not be proper for a government body or any State authority to take possession of someone’s land without following due process of law, and that even if a citizen has given permission for his land to be used by the government authority, the authority should not do so.

Analysis of the judgment

  • The government or state authorities cannot seize a landowner’s property without following proper legal procedures. Article 300A of the Constitution states that no one’s property can be taken away from them unless they have legal authorization to do so. The action taken by the respondent authorities in taking forced control of the petitioners’ lands for road widening by demonstrating the Government Resolution is in violation of Article 300A.
  • The Constitution (Forty-Fourth Amendment) Act of 1978 made the right to property no longer a fundamental right, although it remained a human right in a welfare state and a constitutional right under Article 300A of the Constitution. Article 300A states that no one’s property can be taken away from them unless they have legal authorization to do so. The state cannot take a citizen’s property unless it follows the legal procedure.
  • When and how the delay originated, as well as the breach of fundamental right and the remedy sought. It’s not that the courts can’t exercise their powers under Article 226 after a certain amount of time has passed, nor that there can never be a circumstance where the courts can’t intervene in a matter after a particular amount of time has passed. In some cases, the desire for justice may be so strong that the High court is compelled to intervene notwithstanding the delay. Finally, it would be a matter for the court’s discretion, which must be applied honestly and justly in order to promote justice rather than to thwart it.
  • The respondents/authorities are undoubtedly bound to conform to the rule of law. In a society regulated by rule of law, there should not be arbitrariness in any decision. In relevant instances, the courts must employ their extraordinary writ jurisdiction under the Indian Constitution to prevent the State Authorities from acting arbitrarily.

Conclusion

It can be concluded that there should be no arbitrariness in any decision in a society governed by the rule of law. There was no conclusive evidence in this case that the road width was 30 meters, and there was no discussion of acquiring petitioners’ lands. They are expected to be model litigants, respecting petitioners’ rights and following proper legal procedures when the property is likely to be acquired. It would be improper for a government body or any state authority to take possession of someone’s land without following due process of law, and even if a citizen has given permission for his land to be used by the government authority, the authority should not take undue advantage of that permission when compensating the citizen when the land is acquired.

References

  1. https://bombayhighcourt.nic.in
  2. https://www.scconline.com
  3. https://indiankanoon.org

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