The Supreme Court observed that inordinate delay in filing appeal in compensatory matters, per se, may not be fatal.

The court observed while it partially allowed an appeal by landowners in Khora village, who were initially awarded compensation for land acquired by the government in 1991.

The Court condoned 13-year delay in filing their appeals but denied the Appellants' request for a grant of interest for the delay period. The Court noted that granting such preferential treatment would be unfair to vigilant landowners who had timely appealed and settled their cases.

The Bench comprising Justice Surya Kant and Justice Dipankar Datta observed, “We have condoned the delay of nearly 13 years in filing of their first appeals, only to accord parity between the similarly placed land-owners on the anvil of Article 14 of the Constitution. If the appellants are granted compensation higher than their co landowners, despite the fact that such counterparts were vigilant in pursuing their remedy promptly, it will lead to hostile discrimination viz those landowners whose fate already stands sealed upto this Court. This will also amount to granting premium on, what can be aptly termed as stale, belated and chance claim of the appellants”.

Senior Advocates Pradeep Kant and S.W.A. Qadri appeared for the Appellants and Senior Advocate Ravindra Kumar appeared for the Respondents/State.

The Appellants, landowners in village Khora, were awarded compensation for their land acquired by the government in 1991. They filed a reference under Section 18 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 (LA Act), seeking enhancement of compensation. The Reference Court enhanced the compensation to Rs.106 per square yard. The Appellants then filed a first appeal in the High Court, but their appeal was dismissed due to delay. Meanwhile, the High Court decided a batch of first appeals filed by other landowners, including those from village Makanpur.

In these appeals, the High Court enhanced the compensation to Rs.130 per square yard. Subsequently, the Apex Court in Jitendra and others v State of Uttar Pradesh and another [C.A. No.12631/2017] had further enhanced the compensation to Rs.150 per square yard. Aggrieved the Appellants seek parity with the other landowners and compensation of Rs.150 per square yard. They also contended that they are entitled to the higher rate of Rs.297 per square yard, which was awarded for land in village Makanpur.

The Court noted that substantial delays in filing appeals related to compensation matters may not be inherently fatal. While acknowledging that the rights and equities between the parties can be balanced, the Court emphasized that statutory benefits, such as interest for the delayed period, may be denied. The Court held that the delay in filing the initial appeals could be excused, provided that Appellants do not unjustly benefit from the delayed period.

Furthermore, the Bench noted that the High Court should have explicitly denied latecomers the benefit of interest, including on the solatium, in accordance with Section 34 of the LA Act. This denial was applicable from the award date by the Reference Court until the filing of the first appeals.

The Bench observed that such preferential treatment would be considered hostile discrimination, particularly against landowners whose cases have already been concluded, resembling a reward for what is deemed a stale, belated, and opportunistic claim by the Appellants.

Accordingly, the Court partly allowed the Appeal and determined the rate of Rs.150 per sq.yard without granting interest.

Cause Title: Mohar Singh (Dead) Through Lrs. & Ors v State Of Uttar Pradesh Collector & Ors. (2023 INSC 1019)

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