SC reminds State to rehabilitate land losers

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New Delhi, Nov 10 (UNI) The Supreme Court has set aside a Bombay High Court order condoning more than a six-year delay in the government filing an appeal in a SEZ land acquisition case.

In a ruling fraught with wide ramifications for SEZ policy of the Centre and the State, the apex court has reminded the State and its instrumentalities that they must bare in mind that what is acquired is not the land but the livelihood of the land losers and timely payment of compensation to the land losers is in public interest for their rehabilitation.

The Bombay High Court court had passed the direction on August 23, 2007 condoning the delay of 1724 days in filing of appeals by executive engineers, Jalgaon Medium Project and allowed the appeal of Pundlik Jalam Patil through his legal representative.

Their land was acquired on March 6, 1997 and the award was passed on March 31, 1999.

A bench comprising Justices S H Kapadia and B Sudarshan Reddy while allowing the appeals of the land losers, noted, ''One should not forget the basic fact that what is acquired is not the land but the livelihood of the land losers.

These public parameters ought to be kept in mind by the court while excercising the discretion dealing with the application file under section 5 of Limitation Act.

Dragging the land losers to the court of law, years after the termination of legal proceedings would not serve any public interest. settled rights cannot be lightly interfered with by condoning inordinate delay without there being any proper explanation of such delay on the ground of involvement of public revenue. It serves no public interest.'' The apex court while disapproving the approach of Bombay High Court condoning the delay by 1724 days in filing of the appeal by the State, noted, ''Public interest undoubtedly is a paramount consideration in excercising the court's discretion wherever conferred upon it by the relevant statutes.

Pursuing stale claims and multiplicity of proceeedings in no manner sub-serves public interest.

Prompt and timely payment of compensation to the land losers facilitating their rehabilitation/resettlement is equally an integral part of public policy.

Public interest demands that the state or beneficiary of the acquisition, as the case may be, should not be allowed to indulge in any act to unsettle the settled legal rights accrued in law by resorting to avoidable litigation unless the claimants are guilty of deriving benefits which otherwise are not entitled in law in any fraudulent manner.'' Justice Reddy writng the 26-judgement for the bench concluded by observing that Salmond in his jurisprudence states that the laws come to the assistance of the vigilant and not of the sleepy.

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