Major Victory of Ministry Of Defence in Guarding Public Money: Supreme Court Sets Aside MP HC Order on Disbursal of Compensation to Landowners

(Judicial Quest News Network)

In a significant development the Apex Court on Thursday set aside an order of Madhya Pradesh High Court directing the disbursal of the amount of over Rs. 1.96 crore deposited by Defence Ministry with collector to be given compensation to land owners in the vicinity of, military statin in Jabalpur.

Despite the fact mentioned that the petitioner has already filed the reference before the LD. Additional District and Sessions Judge, Jabalpur and the same is pending adjudication.

A bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar and Sanjiv Khanna, which set aside the order, said that High Court ought not to have ordered for disbursal of amount in contempt case, which has limited scope.

The SLP points out that while passing the impugned order the Hon’ble High Court misunderstood between the provisions of the works of Defence Act. 1903. And the provisions related to the right to fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. The basic differences between two Acts are that in an earlier one only right to enjoy the property is restricted in certain ways for ex. not to construct the high rise buildings etc, so that the Defence Operations, in and around the said land may not be hampered whereas in the later there is a complete acquirement of land. That is the reason there are Section 23 and 24 under the Works of Defence Act.1903 Which lays down the determining factor to be consider while the damages/compensation.

The bench said that it is not going into the merit and directed the aggrieved persons, to approach the district court, where reference is pending adjudication for disbursal of the award amount.

It is further submitted that the order passed by the Hon’ble High Court would not only open flood gates for various other applicants to claim higher compensation without allowing petitioner to avail appropriate remedies under Works of Defence Act but would also cause great loss to the public exchequer.

The Apex Court also gave liberty to defence Secretary Ajay Kumar and other Army officials to file an application before district court seeking stay of the disbursal of the amount deposited with the collector.

Senior Advocate R. Balasubramanium and Advocate Sachin Sharma appeared on behalf of petitioners, while Advocate V Shukla appeared on behalf of the respondent.

Mr Balasuramanium at the outset apprised the Supreme Court regarding the final judgment dated 24/06/2021 passed by the Ld Single Judge of the Madhya Pradesh High Court, Principal Bench Jabalpur in CONC 708/2020 titled Kewal Kumar Jaggi and Ors vs Shri Ajay Kumar IAS and ors whereby the Hon’ble High Court had passed an order for disbursal of the award amount in the contempt proceedings. The Ld Senior Counsel appraised the court that the petitioners herein had already filed reference application against the award which was pending before the district court (the fact that notice had been issued in the reference court proceedings was brought to the knowledge of the judges).

The Ld senior counsel submitted that the High court had exceeded its jurisdiction by ordering for disbursal of the award amount when the statutory remedy had already been availed by the petitioners herein and also highlighted the fact that the award had thrice been revised by the collector.

Advocate V Shukla, appearing for the aggrieved person, said that the defence department does locus to file a reference application before the district judge.

He further said that the defence department had accepted the award amount and agreed to pay the same to the aggrieved parties. The top court then allowed the appeal and set aside the order of the High Court.

The plea filed by Kumar and other army officers before the top court said that they are constrained to file the appeal as the High Court did not appreciate  the fact that being aggrieved  by the award/ final calculation done by the Collector vide order dated September 27, 2019, they filed an reference under section 18 of the Works and Defence Act before the District Judge. The plea said that the High Court went on to direct for release of an amount of over 1.96 crore to the opposite parties it said that the impugned order dated June 24, 2021, would cause irreparable loss to the petitioners and further frustrated their right to challenge the Award passed by the collector, under section 18 of the Works of Defence Act. The petitioners said that when the reference case is already pending adjudication then the proceedings would become otiose due to the impugned order.On October 8, last year, the top had asked the Secretary o the Ministry of Defence, who was asked to appear before the High Court in a contempt case to appear virtually in the matter.

On May. 6. The Central government has issued a notification imposing restrictions, specified under provisions of the Works of Defence Act.1903, upon the use and enjoyment of the land lying in the vicinity of Military Station Shuklpur, in Jabalpur District of Madhya Pradesh.

The High Court, while disposing of the Writ petitions directed to the respondents shall take appropriate steps to determine the damages occurred to the petitioner due to the imposition of restrictions in using of land after publication of notification under section 3 of Works of Defence Act, 1903, Said exercise was to be completed within a period of six months and there after damages were to be paid the petitioners. If respondents failed to pay damages, then petitioner were given liberty to file first contempt case making allegation of disobedience of order.

It was further directed that if order is not complied with and petitioners are forced to file contempt then cost of filling of the petition may be realized from defaulting officer. Petitioners filed second contempt case.

In November 2018, the Collector (Land Acquisition) Jabalpur had made an initial award of over Rs 10 crores.

Later on the same was corrected in January 2019, made a ward of over six cores without applying the provisions of the Works and Defence Act. Similarly, on September 27, 2019, the collector had again recalculated the compensation amount of nearly two crores.

The ministry of Defence being aggrieved by the recalculation done by the Collector of nearly Rs two crores contrary to the provisions of works of Defence Act, filed an application before the appropriate forum. That matter was on August, 17, 2020 was referred by the Collector to the District Judge/Reference Court for adjudication of the issue pertaining to the pertaining to the determination of the Compensation amount.

The Apex Court granted leave in the matter and thereafter recorded its order where it directed that:-

A.The order of the MP High Court dated 24/06/2021 in CONC 708/2020 is set aside.

B.  The respondents may approach the district court seeking disbursal of the award amount.

C. The petitioners may file an application seeking stay of the disbursal before the district court.

D.The respondents may raise the ground as to the maintainability of the reference proceedings before the district court which the court may decide on its own merits.

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