E.A. Aboobacker & Ors. V/S State Of Kerala & Ors.

It is a settled position of jurisprudence that when the law prescribes a procedure to be followed for doing any act or thing then that procedure has to be followed and any violation of such procedure would make the act voidable, if not void.

Case name:E.A. Aboobacker & Ors. V/S State Of Kerala & Ors.
Case number:Civil Appeal No. 2772 Of 2011
Court:The Supreme Court Of India
Bench:Madan B. Lokur J. Deepak Gupta J.
Decided on:September 27, 2018
Relevant Act/Sections:The Land Acquisition Act, 1894

BRIEF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:

  • On 05.12.2005, the Government of Kerala accorded administrative sanction to acquire 177.79 acres of land in Ernakulam district for the purpose of the Infopark. The Government also accorded sanction to invoke the urgency clause under Section 17(1) of the Act. Thereafter, on 15.12.2005, the District Collector, Ernakulam issued a Government Order appointing the Special Tahsildar (LA), K.R.L. as the Land Acquisition Officer for the acquisition of land for the Infopark.
  • Thereafter, a notification was issued under Section 4(1) of the Act. In the said notification, it is mentioned that in view of the order of the Government, application of Section 5(A) of the Act has been exempted by invoking the powers under Section 17(4) of the Act. According to the appellants 23.92 acres of land belonging to them was sought to be acquired along with the land of others. The appellants filed objections under Section 5A(1) of the Act.
  • According to them no action was taken on their objections and, thereafter, they filed Writ Petition No.9735 of 2008 in the High Court of Kerala seeking various reliefs including quashing of the notification issued under Section 4(1) and 17(4) of the Act. The main ground raised was that the Special Tahsildar (LA), K.R.L. was not entitled to perform the functions of Collector under the Act.
  • The stand of the State was that the Special Tahsildar (LA), K.R.L. was entitled to act as Collector for the entire Ernakulam District and was therefore empowered to act as Collector even in relation to land acquired for the Infopark. The writ court dismissed the writ petition in so far as this objection was concerned. The appellants filed Writ Appeal No.2446 of 2008 which was also dismissed on 06.01.2009.

ISSUE BEFORE THE COURT:

  • Whether the Special Tahsildar (Land Acquisition), Cochin Refineries Limited, Ernakulam, Vytilla, Cochin was empowered to act as Collector under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 (hereinafter referred to as “the Act”), in respect of lands acquired by the State for an Infopark?
  • RATIO OF THE COURT
  • The court observed that the State may in its wisdom appoint such officer for the entire district or for a special project. On perusal of the notification it is apparent that by the said notification the Government of Kerala had appointed an officer by the name of Special Tahsildar (LA), K.R.L., to perform the functions of a Collector under the Act only within the area of Ernakulam District, only in respect of any land within his jurisdiction for the acquisition of which a notification under subsection (1) of Section 4 of the Act has been published.
  • In courts opinion, the State has empowered the specified officer i.e. the Special Tahsildar (LA), K.R.L. only in respect of the land for which the notification under subsection (1) of Section 4 had already been issued. The Special Tahsildar (LA) K.R.L. was not empowered by the notification of 21.08.1989 to issue any fresh notification in respect of other land.
  • The court held that though the explanatory note may not be part of the notification the same can definitely be used to resolve the ambiguity, if any, in the notification. The explanatory note clearly indicates that the notification has been issued only to empower the officer to act as Collector in respect of 320 acres of land. It is a settled position of jurisprudence that when the law prescribes a procedure to be followed for doing any act or thing then that procedure has to be followed and any violation of such procedure would make the act voidable, if not void. There is no doubt that the State is empowered to appoint any officer other than a Collector or Deputy Commissioner to act as Collector.
  • However, the notification should be clear as to for what purpose such Collector is being appointed. As far as the present case is concerned the Special Tahsildar (LA), K.R.L. was appointed as Collector only in respect of acquisition of land relating to Cochin Refineries Limited within Ernakulam District.
  •  The court further observed if the State wanted him to act as Collector in respect of other acquisitions, nothing prevented the State from issuing a fresh notification in this regard, but relying upon the notification dated 21.08.1989 the Special Tahsildar (LA), K.R.L. cannot act as Collector in respect of other acquisitions. This is not a hyper technical ground.
  • The court finally observed that when the State wants to acquire the property of a citizen which is a constitutional right of any citizen under Article 300(A) of the Constitution of India it must strictly follow the procedure prescribed by law. It cannot urge that because the acquisition is in public interest a more liberal view is to be taken.

DECISION HELD BY COURT:

  • The appeals were accordingly allowed. Pending application(s) if any is also allowed. The judgments and orders of the High Court in Writ Appeal No.2446 of 2008 dated 06.01.2009 and Writ Petition No.9735 of 2008 dated 25.11.2008 are set aside in the aforesaid terms.
  • Court also made it clear that no other point was raised before us and, therefore, the State can take appropriate action in accordance with law if it still wants to acquire the land.

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