Unlawful property Possession by govt, Supreme Court asks ex- High Court Judge to decide Compensation The Supreme Court (SC) bench comprising of Justices Rohinton Fali Nariman and BR Gavai while hearing the appeal in the case titled Punalur Paper Mills Ltd. (Appellant) v. West Bengal Mineral Development and Trading Corporation Ltd. & Ors. (Respondents) stated that it is 'very...
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Unlawful property Possession by govt, Supreme Court asks ex- High Court Judge to decide Compensation
The Supreme Court (SC) bench comprising of Justices Rohinton Fali Nariman and BR Gavai while hearing the appeal in the case titled Punalur Paper Mills Ltd. (Appellant) v. West Bengal Mineral Development and Trading Corporation Ltd. & Ors. (Respondents) stated that it is 'very disturbing' that the respondent was enjoying unlawful possession of the property since 1998.
The SC on 1 March 2021 came down heavily in its' order on a West Bengal government body. The Court observed that the respondent was retaining unlawful possession of a property in Kolkata for the last 22 years without "paying a single amount towards compensation."
The Top Court stated that "A very disturbing feature of these appeals is the fact that WBMDTCL, which is "State" within the meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution of India, has continued in unlawful possession of the premises since 15 August 1998 without paying a single amount towards compensation till date."
The factual background of the case is that the property admeasuring 7,500 sq. ft. at Kolkata was requisitioned under the West Bengal Premises Requisition And Control (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1947 (Act) in August 1973 to the respondents.
In March 1987, Section 10B was inserted in the Act. According to the said provision, any property requisitioned under the Act had to be released by the State Government on or before the expiry of a period of 25 years from the date of requisition. The said period had expired in August 1998, obligating the State to release the Premises.
However, the respondents did not vacate the said premises and it was in unlawful possession of the same occupying it as permanent office accommodation. This was sought to be done by issuing a notification under Section 4 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.
The said notification was challenged in Calcutta High Court (HC). The HC ordered the respondents to vacant possession of the premises and to hand over it within three months.
The petition was kept alive to determine compensation; in the meanwhile, the same order was vacated as the State issued another notification concerning the same property, by invoking the urgency provision under Section 17(4).
In 2017, a single-judge of the HC struck down all those notifications and ordered that vacant possession be handed over to the owner in three months.
An appeal was filed before the division bench of the HC which directed that the property should be vacated and possession should be handed over to Punalur Paper Mills within three months.
An appeal was filed before the SC against the aforesaid order of the division bench of HC.
The SC held that West Bengal Govt. was on notice from 31 March 1987, when Section 10B was inserted in the Act and it further stated that the said premises would have to be vacated on or before August 1998.
The SC held that "The Division Bench rightly held that at best this order could possibly refer to the acquisition proceedings that had already been initiated by the notification of 12.08.1999 under Section 4 of the Land Acquisition Act. In any case, this order could not and did not wash away the lethargy of the State in initiating acquisition proceedings, which ought to have been done before the 25-year period elapsed."
Disappointed with the respondents, the Apex Court noted that the disturbing feature of the appeals was that a government body that fell within the definition of State was retaining unlawful possession of a property for the last 22 years without paying any money.
The bench appointed former Calcutta HC Judge, Justice Soumitra Pal to act as an arbitrator and to decide the amount of compensation that is payable to the appellants by the respondents.
The Court further directed in its order that "A written authority to appoint such arbitrator is to be furnished to us immediately, i.e., within a week from 23.02.2021. If not so furnished, WBMDTCL will be liable to pay a sum of Rs 100 per square feet, per month for the entire period of illegal occupation of the Premises within four months from the date of this judgment."
The SC asked the respondents to hand over the possession of the premises to the appellant within four months.