SRINAGAR: The High Court, in a landmark ruling, has affirmed that the land acquisition notification under the Land Acquisition Act of former J&K State will persist in its application for acquiring land for public purposes.
The Division Bench, comprising Chief Justice N Kotiswar Singh and Justice M A Chowdhary, has resolved the matter in an appeal lodged by aggrieved landowners who sought compensation for their land acquisition for the construction of the Semi Ring Road under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (RFCTLARR Act), which was extended to J&K UT through the J&K Re-Organisation Act 2019.
The authorities had refused to grant compensation under the RFCTLARR Act, asserting that the land acquisition notification had been issued under the old Land Acquisition Act before the J&K Re-Organization Act came into effect, making it inapplicable for compensation awards.
However, the landowners argued that the notification did not encompass their land and that their land was acquired through a fresh notification under Section 4(1) of the 1990 Act on 17.03.2022. They maintained that this could not be applied to their case, as the J&K Re-Organization Act was already in force at that time, entitling them to compensation under the Central Act (RFCTLARR Act).
On the other hand, the Government counsel informed the court that the land acquisition process had commenced in 2016, and the second notification was a continuation of the ongoing process, thus rendering the provisions of the RFCTLARR Act inapplicable to the current case.
It was argued that the process for acquiring land for the Semi Ring Road around Srinagar City had been initiated on 20.08.2016. The notification under Section 4(1) of the J&K Land Acquisition Act, 1990, was issued on 28.03.2019, and the disputed subsequent notification on 17.03.2022 was issued as a corrigendum to the earlier notification from 28.03.2019. Consequently, the question of compensation under the Central Act did not arise.
The Government counsel contended that compensation had been provided to all affected landowners from 45 villages, except for the appellants, who were challenging the proceedings and awards, obstructing the project’s progress, and refusing to surrender their land.
The Division Bench clarified that the second notification from March 17, 2022 was issued as a correction to the earlier notification of March 28, 2019 under Section 4(1) of the J&K Land Acquisition Act, Svt. 1990. They emphasised that this correction did not constitute the initiation of a new land acquisition process. The Bench stated, “We would understand that it was issued by way of a correction of an existing notification by adding or deleting the names of some landowners to the original list.”
The court also affirmed that necessary adjustments were made, and a new notification from March 17, 2022 was issued to reflect changes in land allocation based on road alignment and surveys. This new notification did not negate the earlier one but merely incorporated modifications and additions to include lands not covered in the original notification from March 28, 2019.
“It may also be noted that even if the land of the appellants came to be included for the first time, it was clubbed with the land of others which were already included in the earlier notification. The fresh notification is not a stand-alone notification only in respect of the land of the appellants. Thus, the impugned Notification dated 17.03.2022 cannot amount to initiating a fresh land acquisition proceeding,” the Division Bench added.
The court also addressed the legal implications of the 17.03.2022 Notification in light of the Jammu and Kashmir Re-organization Act, 2019, which led to the repeal of the Jammu and Kashmir Land Acquisition Act, Svt. 1990, and the enactment of the Central RFCTLARR Act. The Bench explained, “In this regard, it may be observed that Sub-clause (1) of Section 114 of the RFCTLARR Act, 2013, which deals with the saving clause of the Act provides that the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, is repealed and it has been further provided in sub-clause (2) of Section 114 of the RFCTLARR Act that save as otherwise provided in this Act, the repeal under sub-section (1) shall not be held to prejudice or affect the general application of Section 6 of the General Clauses Act, 1897, with regard to the effect of repeals.”
The court clarified that ongoing investigations and legal proceedings would continue as if the repealing Act (J&K Re-Organisation Act) had never been passed. “Thus, even if the RFCTLARR Act came into operation repealing the Jammu & Kashmir Land Acquisition Act, by virtue of Section 6 of the General Clauses Act, 1897, the proceedings already initiated under the Jammu and Kashmir Land Acquisition Act, 1990, would continue,” as per the judgment.
The court rejected the Senior Counsel’s argument on behalf of the appellants, asserting that after the enforcement of the Jammu and Kashmir Re-organization Act, 2019, the land acquisition proceedings should proceed under the RFCTLARR Act. Therefore, the court declined to intervene in the challenged second notification from 17.03.2022 and the subsequent award made under the Jammu & Kashmir Land Acquisition Act, 1990, maintaining the continuity of the land acquisition process.