The recent Supreme Court Judgment in case of Vidya Devi Vs. The State of Himachal Pradesh and Ors, Civil Appeal nos. 6061 OF 2020, has restored the faith of the Indian Citizen in the Judiciary as a saviour of human rights, where the State Government was trying to derogate the rights of the citizens. The Supreme Court laid down an important principle that, a Welfare State cannot take the benefit arising out of the Doctrine of Adverse Possession.
The Judgment provided the protection to citizens from State adversely taking the possession of the property of a citizen. The court stated that forcibly taking possession of a person's private property is a violation of fundamentals of human rights and also Article 300A of the Constitution of India. It also stated that the State cannot invoke the benefits of the Doctrine of Adverse Possession and claim the title over such a forcibly acquired property without paying any compensation.
Vidya Devi, an eighty years old lady whose property was forcefully acquired by the State Government of Himachal Pradesh in 1967-68, for the purpose of the road construction. Road Construction was duly determined as the Public Purpose, but as the Vidya Devi was illiterate and unaware of the compensation payable to her, nothing was paid to her in return.
In 2004, a similar case of Anakh Singh & Ors v. State of Himachal Pradesh & Ors, wherein the land of Anakh Singh was forcibly acquired and he approached the High Court, the court asked the Government to acquire the land according to the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 (LA Act) and accordingly compensate the aggrieved party with reasonable amount under the LA Act.
Knowing about the possibility of the compensation, in 2010, Vidya Devi (the appellant) filed the writ petition in the High Court of Himachal Pradesh, for compensation under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.
The Government opposed the Writ Petition, stating that the property has been under the adverse possession of the State for the past 42 years and thereby, the State claimed the title over the property.
The High Court dismissed the writ petition and asked the appellant to file a civil suit for compensation as already a road has been constructed on the disputed land.
Aggrieved by the order of the High Court, the appellant approached the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court referred to Article 300A and stated that private property cannot be acquired unless by the due process of law.
Further Supreme Court said it was shocked by the Arguments of the State Government that the property was in its adverse possession. And held that, the State being a Welfare State governed by the rule of law can neither use the doctrine of adverse possession nor it can arrogate itself a status beyond what has been conferred by the Constitution.
The court emphasized the fact that the woman was illiterate and a widow and for nearly half a century divested from her own property without any lawful authority.
The Court invoked extraordinary power under Article 142 of the Constitution and ordered the State government to pay compensation along with the statutory benefits including the solatium within the period of 8 weeks, as a case of a deemed acquisition.
Further, the court directed the Respondent State to pay the legal cost of Rs. 10 Lakhs, to the appellant.
The Supreme Court reaffirmed that the State Government cannot derogate the rights of its citizens. Further, under the Article 300A can only be acquired by the authority of law, i.e. by the due procedure established in the Law. The Property should have been acquired by the provisions laid down under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 and reasonable compensation should be paid under the same.
Therefore, the Supreme Court assured that the rule of law will prevail and a Welfare State cannot take the benefits of the Doctrine of Adverse possession. The State needs to acquire the property by giving reasonable and lawful consideration. This Judgment would be beneficial for the people who are unaware of the possibility of compensation against the land acquisition and will further ensure that a Welfare State never demeans the rights of the citizen over his/her property.
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