Srinagar: The High Court of J&K and Ladakh has held that all land required for construction of the Srinagar Ring Road is required to be acquired in keeping with the National Highways Act, 1956 even as it ordered to pay additional compensation of 20% to those whose land has been acquired for the project.
Observing that the Srinagar Ring Road Project as a whole is a national highway project and, therefore, needs to be treated as part of existing National Highway 1A, a division bench of Justice Sanjeev Kumar and Justice Puneet Gupta said: “It is not necessary to declare it a national highway under Section 2 of the NH Act, 1956 at least till it is completed,”
While the court noted that without any doubt Srinagar Ring Road is at-least proposed to be a part of national highway NH 1A’ it said: “Notwithstanding that a declaration in terms of Section 2 is yet to be made, the Central Government is obliged in law, in terms of Section 3A, to initiate the process of acquisition under the NH Act, 1956”.
The court was hearing pleas of land owners of twenty villages, whose land has come under acquisition for construction of “semi ring road” being constructed by the National Highway Authority of India NHAI from Pampore to Sonawari.
The petitioners had sought to declare the State Land Acquisition Act, 1990 as amended from time to time as ultra vires the Constitution of India.
They had sought directions to pay them compensation in lieu of their land acquired by the NHAI in terms of communication of the NHAI dated 4 October 2017 wherein the NHAI has intimated to the Deputy Commissioner, Budgam to determine and finalize the land acquisition compensation by adopting Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (RFCTLARR Act).
“Since acquisition in these cases have been completed and the final awards passed under the State Land Acquisition Act, 1990, which, as we have held, was not in consonance with law, as such, it would be difficult rather inadvisable, at this stage, to set the clock back,” the court said.
While the court observed that most of the villagers affected by land acquisition have already received compensation, it said possession of acquired land has been taken and a major portion of it has been utilized for construction of the ring road.
The Srinagar Ring Road project, the court said, is a very prestigious project envisioned by the Government of India in larger public interest.
“We could have directed the authorities to at least re-determine the compensation payable to the petitioners and other land losers by following the provisions of the National Highways Act, 1956 i.e. Section 3A to 3J and pay the additional compensation, if any, to the land losers but we are sure that the determination of compensation under National Highways Act, in the absence of applicability of RFCTLARR Act, 2013, may not be much beneficial to the petitioners,” the bench said.
“We, accordingly, modify the relief prayed for and direct the respondents (authorities) to enhance the compensation payable to the petitioners by 20%. This would meet the ends of justice and would be a sort of penalty to the respondents (authorities) for not following the due process of law.”
The Court asked the concerned Collectors to issue the amended awards and disburse the balance compensation, if any, payable to the land losers (interested persons) within a period of two months.