Land acquisition compensation can't be different on nature of ownership: Supreme Court [21.2.2023]

The Supreme Court ruled that the classification of land as 'Pushtaini' (ancestral) and 'Gair-Pushtaini' (non-ancestral) for the purpose of compensation for land acquired by the Greater Noida authority would be "bad in law, and liable to be set aside".

It stressed that ancestry as a concept, especially before times of modern private property ownership, had remained to be a tool for inclusivity and not exclusion.

A bench of Justices Krishna Murari and S. Ravindra Bhat said word "Pushtaini" is a Persian word and finds its origin from the word "Pusht", which means "back" and it has been historically used in the context of ancestry.

It further added that any possession, tale or legend, that has roots to a particular ancestry, to denote its significance to the said ancestry, the word "Pushtaini" is used. As is obvious, since the word "Gair" which finds its origin in Urdu language means "other than", thus, "Gair-Pushtaini" would mean one which is not aPushtaini', noted the bench.

Justice Murari, who authored the judgment on behalf of the bench, said: "What we find most interesting however, is that ancestry as a concept, especially before times of modern private property ownership, had remained to be a tool for inclusivity and not exclusion. In such a context, the use of the word 'Pushtaini' by the authority, to exclude compensation might be a historically inaccurate interpretation."

He said that while this is not consequential to the merits of the case, "it is in our opinion a worthwhile observation, for law has to power to legitimise the meaning of words and can change the context in which a word is used, and in turn, can change the course of history itself."

The bench noted that the establishment of Greater Noida was done for a noble purpose, i.e., to accommodate in the city all those who came travelling from every corner of the country in search of a better life.

"While doing so however, as can be seen in the present case, some residents whose land was subject to acquisition in the pursuit of the said aim, were faced with discrimination. In such circumstances, it becomes the duty of this court to dispense justice, and rectify the harm caused to those at the receiving end of the discrimination," said Justice Murari.

The bench concluded that it is of the opinion that the classification made by both the executive actions is bad in law, and is liable to be set aside.

"The Land Acquisition Act does not envisage any differential compensation on the basis of such classification, and hence, this court must infer the compensation to be provided by the executive actions within the confines of Section 23 of the Act," it said.

The bench noted that the objective of the said classification might have been noble, however, such classification only on the basis of conjectures and surmises cannot be sustained.

"If a claim is being made to differentiate between class of persons, such a claim must be backed by empirical data. While this court is not a fact-finding court and is a court of law, however, the law must also not be understood in isolation, but in the context in which it exists, as the law does not exist like an object within the statutes, but lives and evolves with the people it governs," the bench said.

It framed legal questions while examining the matter and answered them in favour of the appellants, who were a group of landholders.

The apex court set aside the Allahabad High Court's full bench decision of March 30, 2018, upholding the authorities' order to provide additional compensation to 'Pushtaini' landholders for the land acquired.

Senior advocates Pradeep Kant represented the appellants, Ravindra Kumar Greater Noida, and Additional Advocate General Ravindra Kumar Raizada represented the Uttar Pradesh government.

22 Feb 2023