A two-judge Bench of Justice Hemant Gupta and Justice V Ramasubramanian has held that under the Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act, 1973, coal mines are a public premise and interest in respect of such property shall vest with the Central Government under Section 3(1) of the Act.

Senior Counsel Mr. Anupam Lal Das appeared for the Appellant while Counsel Mr. Shambo Nandy appeared for the Respondents before the Supreme Court.

An appeal was preferred before the Apex Court assailing the order of the High Court which had set aside the eviction orders passed under the Act.

The Government Company which had initiated the proceedings in 1984 against the Respondents had approached the Supreme Court.

In this case, the Coal Mines (Nationalization) Act was enacted that provided for the acquisition and transfer of the right, title, and interest of the owners in respect of the Coal Mines specified in the Schedule.

The Schedule also had the names and addresses of the owners of coal mines and the amount payable to them under Section 8 of the Act.

One such coal mine was named 'East Godhur' and the amount of compensation payable to them was Rs. 4,000. The Estate Officer, Dhanbad initiated proceedings against the Respondents under the Nationalisation Act contending that they were unauthorized occupants which led to their eviction.

This order was set aside by the District Court.

The property was purchased by an individual who was the Manager of the East Godhur. Later, this was sold by him under four different sale deeds. It was only thereafter, the proceedings under the Act were initiated.

The Respondents had argued that the property was private property and did not form a part of the expression 'mine.' Also, that the property did not belong to the company which owned the East Godhur, and the land in question was not used as a coal mine.

The Apex Court noted that the objections of the Respondents could not stand in the light of the statutory prescriptions.

In this context, the Bench noted –

"Section 3(1) of the Nationalisation Act, declares that on the appointed day, which was 01.05.1973, the right, title and interest of the owners in relation to the coal­mines specified in the Schedule shall stand transferred to and shall vest absolutely in the Central government free from all encumbrances."

The Court further noted that what was transferred to the Central Government were not corporate houses or business entities owning coal mines, but coal mines.

The Bench in this regard held that the ownership of the land was immaterial as per the provisions of the Act. If the land fell within the definition of the expression 'mine' under the Nationalisation Act, the same stood transferred to and vested in the Central Government under Section 3(1).

The Court while referring to Section 2 (h) of the Act, held –

"As could be seen from clause (xi) of Section 2(h), even the lands and buildings used solely for the location of the management, sale or liaison offices or for the residence of officers and staff were also included in the definition of the word "mine". Therefore, the contention that the property was the private property of Jamini Mohan Majumdar, and that his occupation as Manager of a colliery was irrelevant, would fall to the ground."

The Court further noted that the focus of Section 2(h) read with Section 3(1) is on the property and not on who the owner of the property is.

Accordingly, the Court held that the impugned orders of the High Court run contrary to the statutory prescriptions and are liable to be set aside.

The Court thus, allowed the appeal and set aside the impugned orders of the High Court, and confirmed the order of eviction.

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