Supreme Court Stays Kerala HC's Order Directing State To Refund Fees Remitted By Owner For Conversion Of Paddy Land
The Supreme Court has stayed the Kerala High Court’s order which had directed the State to refund the fees remitted by a paddy land owner. The owner had converted less than 25 cent land under the provisions of Kerala Conservation of Paddy and Wetland Act, 2008. The High Court was of the opinion that as the circular has been declared illegal and unconstitutional by a division bench of the Court, therefore, the State of Kerala is bound to refund the amount collected and cannot be permitted to enrich unjustly.
It is pertinent to note that the writ appeal before the High Court challenged a judgment dated April 5, 2022 where the Single Judge Bench relying on Baby M.K. and others v. District Collector, Ernakulam and others [2021 (6) KHC 318], directed the Revenue Divisional Officer, Muvattupuzha, to refund the amount of Rs.8,83,500/- which the respondent (original petitioner) had remitted on October 26, 2021.
The bench comprised Justice B.R. Gavai, Justice C.T. Ravikumar, and Justice Sanjay Kumar.
Senior Advocate Jaideep Gupta appeared for the petitioner.
In the instant case, the land owner-respondent was in possession of 6.07 Ares of property, which was shown as 'nilam' in the Basic Tax Register (BTR). Therefore, he had applied for conversion of the same under the provisions of Kerala Conservation of Paddy and Wetland Act, 2008.
Subsequently, he remitted a sum of Rs.8,83,500/- as per a circular issued by the State Government dated July 25, 202.
However, in Baby MK's case, the division bench had set aside the circular finding that the same is illegal.
It was the contention of the State that the landowners remitted the amount on their own and, therefore, the same cannot be directed to be refunded.
However, the High Court was of the opinion that such ground cannot be countenanced, for the reason that the very circular dated 23.07.2021, has been set aside by the Court, as unconstitutional. Further that the government orders and circulars, referred to, apply to all similarly placed persons and there cannot be any discrimination.
It is to be noted that as per the amended schedule to Rule 12(9) of the Kerala Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Rules, reclamation of any paddy land upto 25 Cents is not liable to be imposed with any fee, with effect from 25.02.2021, whereas, the properties exceeding 25 Cents and upto 1 Acre are liable to be imposed with 10% of the fair value, and the properties exceeding 1 Acre are liable to be imposed with 20% of the fair value.
Therefore, the High Court in the impugned order had observed, “When this Court has declared Exhibit-P6 circular dated 23.07.2021 issued by the Additional Chief Secretary, Revenue Department, Thiruvananthapuram, as unconstitutional, appellants are bound to refund the amount collected and cannot be permitted to enrich unjustly. Contentions of the appellants run contrary to the decision in Baby M.K. (cited supra). Decisions considered by the writ court, applies to the case on hand, that amount illegally collected, has to be refunded”.
“Merely because some landowners have remitted the amount on their own, without protest or objection, it cannot be construed to mean that the effect of Exhibit-P6 circular dated 23.07.2021 would not be applicable to them, more so when, the same circular has been quashed by this Court, as unconstitutional”, the order further read.
Cause Title: The State of Kerala & Ors. v. Joy John