Legal Blog: Publication under the Land Acquisition Act : The Principles

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Publication under the Land Acquisition Act : The Principles

Justice Raveendran
The Supreme Court, speaking through Justice Raveendran, in Special Deputy Collector vs J. Sivaprakasam & Ors., has discussed the principles governing publication of notification under Section 4 and / or Section 6 of the Land Acquisition Act. Section 4 of the Land Acquisition Act provides for publication of the notification in 2 newspapers circulating in the locality, one of which is required to be in the regional language. The non-compliance of the aforesaid requirements vitiate acquisition proceedings, as interested persons / land owners are deprived of their rights to file objections to the acquisition proceedings. The Supreme Court, in the aforesaid judgment, has examined the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act with regard to publication of notifications, and has observed as under;

Re: Question (i) : Publication in newspapers circulating in the locality

14. Sub-section 4(1) of the Act relates to publication of preliminary notification and relevant portion thereof is extracted below: "4. Publication of preliminary notification and powers of officers thereupon.--(1) Whenever it appears to the appropriate Government that land in any locality is needed or is likely to be needed for any public purpose or for a company a notification to that effect shall be published in the Official Gazette and in two daily newspapers circulating in that locality of which at least one shall be in the regional language, and the Collector shall cause public notice of the substance of such notification to be given at convenient places in the said locality ....." Section 4(1) of the Act requires publication of the preliminary notification by three modes : (i) publication in the official gazette; (ii) publication in two daily newspapers circulating in the locality, at least one of which being in the regional language; and (iii) causing public notice of the substance of such preliminary notification to be given at convenient places in the locality. 

15. The controversy in this case relates to the second mode, that is publication in "two daily newspapers circulating in that locality". The provision does not use the words "two daily newspapers having a wide circulation in the locality". In the absence of any definition or explanation in the Statute, the question is as to how should the words `circulating in that locality' be understood? Do they refer to newspapers having the widest circulation in the locality? Or do they refer to newspapers which are regularly sold or circulated in the locality, irrespective of numbers, even if their circulation figures are very modest? If there are nine newspapers circulating in the locality, having a market share of 25%, 20%, 15%, 12%, 10%, 8%, 5%, 3% and 2% of the total daily sales of regional newspapers in the locality, whether all of them can be termed as `newspapers circulating in the locality' or whether only newspapers with a particular minimum percentage can be described as `newspapers circulating in the locality'. Can it be said that the newspapers having 5%, 3% and 2% of total sales of newspapers, are not newspapers circulating in the locality? Can it be said that only the newspapers having the maximum market share of 25% or 20% or 15% of the total sales in the locality, could be described as newspapers circulating in the locality? Whether the total circulation figures of the newspaper are relevant or whether the circulation figures in the locality alone are relevant? From a newspaper's point of view, if its total circulation is 40,000 and out of it circulation figure for Chennai is 21,000, it can very well say that it's major circulation is in Chennai. But from the reader's point of view, if the total number of regional newspapers sold in Chennai is a million, a newspaper having a circulation of 21,000 (which is around 2%) may not be considered to be a newspaper with a wide circulation in the locality. Which perspective should be preferred? If section 4(1) is to be interpreted as requiring publication in two newspapers having reasonably wide circulation, as held by the High Court, what should be the guidelines to determine `reasonably wide circulation'? Where should the line be drawn and whether any line should be drawn are questions that may arise, if we read the words `newspapers circulating in that locality' as `newspapers having wide circulation in that locality'.

16. The purpose of publication of the notification is two fold: First is to ensure that adequate publicity is given so that land owners and persons interested will have an opportunity to file their objections under Section 5A of the Act. Second is to put the land owners/occupants on notice that government officers will be entering upon the property for carrying on the activities enumerated in section 4(2) of the Act. Section 4(1), before its amendment in 1984, required publication of the preliminary notification only in the official gazette and public notice, of the substance of the notification at convenient places in the locality. This Court, in Madhya Pradesh Housing Board vs. Mohd Shafi & Ors. 1992 (2) SCC 168 explained the object of issuing a notification under Section 4 of the Act thus: "The object of issuing a notification under Section 4 of the Act is two- fold. First, it is a public announcement by the Government and a public notice by the Collector to the effect that the land, as specified therein, is needed or is likely to he needed by the Government for the "public purpose" mentioned therein; and secondly, it authorizes the departmental officers or officers of the local authority, as the case may be to do all such acts as are mentioned in Section 4(2) of the Act. The notification has to be published in the locality and particularly persons likely to be affected by the proposal have to be put on notice that such an activity is afoot. The notification is, thus, required to give with sufficient clarity not only the "public purpose" for which the acquisition proceedings are being commenced but also the "locality" where the land is situate with as full a description as possible of the land proposed to be acquired to enable the "interested" persons to know as to which land is being acquired and for what purpose and to take further steps under the Act by filing objections etc., since it is open to such persons to canvass the non-suitability of the land for the alleged "public purpose" also. If a notification under Section 4(1) of the Act is defective and does not comply with the requirements of the Act, it not only vitiates the notification, but also renders all subsequent proceedings connected with the acquisition, bad."

17. By Amendment Act 68 of 1984, section 4(1) was amended introducing the additional requirement relating to publication of the notification in two daily newspapers circulating in the locality. The purpose of requiring such newspaper publication is to give as wide a publicity to the notification as possible, as the State Gazettes do not have a wide circulation and causing public notice of the substance of the notification at convenient places in the locality would give notice only in specific pockets in the locality. Legislature therefore provided for publication in two newspapers (of which at least one being in the regional language) to have a wider reach. Having regard to the object and purpose of the provision, it is evident that publication should be in newspapers which have a reasonably good circulation in the locality. If the publication is to be made in obscure newspapers having only token or insignificant circulation, either to cut the cost of publication or by way of political or official patronage, that will defeat the very purpose of providing for publication in newspapers.

18. On the other hand, if the words `newspapers circulating in that locality' are to be interpreted in a purely literal and normal sense, they would mean newspapers having a regular and steady circulation among the general public in the locality, irrespective of the number. In that sense even a newspaper having 2% to 3% market share out of the total circulation figures for regional newspapers sold in the locality, can be considered as a newspaper "circulating in the locality". Therefore, where there is compliance with the requirement relating to publication in two daily newspapers circulating in that locality (one which at least should be in the regional language) in a technical or literal sense, but it is found that those newspapers have only a circulation share of 2% to 3% of the total number of newspaper sold in the locality, it may not be possible to mechanically invalidate the entire acquisition, on the ground that the two regional newspapers in which the notification was published were not "circulating in that locality".

19. We have held that the object and purpose of the amended section 4(1) of the Act is to provide for publication of the preliminary notification in two daily newspapers having reasonably wide circulation in the locality so that people (persons interested) in that locality may become aware of the proposals for acquisition. We have also held that publications in two newspapers having regular and steady circulation, but having a market share of only 2% to 3% of the total newspapers can not invalidate the acquisition proceedings automatically, on the ground that such publication violates the requirement of section 4(1) relating to newspaper publication. As the said two findings are slightly contradictory, it is necessary to harmonize the consequences.

20. This leads us next to the consequences of publication of the notification in two newspapers having reasonably wide circulation and consequences of bonafide publication of the notification in two newspapers which do not have a wide circulation in the locality. 

20.1) If there is failure to publish in two daily newspapers or if the publication is in two newspapers that have no circulation at all in the locality, without anything more, the notification under section 4(1) of the Act and the consequential acquisition proceedings will be vitiated, on the ground of non-compliance with an essential condition of section 4(1) of the Act.

20.2) If the two newspapers carrying the publication of the notification have reasonably wide circulation in the locality, (apart from the publication of the notification in the Gazette and causing public notice of the substance of the notification to be given at convenient places in the locality), then the requirements of section 4(1) are complied with and all persons concerned in the locality shall be deemed to have notice of the notification. (For this purpose, the publication need not be in newspapers having the widest or largest circulation, but it is sufficient if the publication is in newspapers having reasonably wide circulation). In that event, neither the notification under section 4(1), nor the consequential acquisition proceedings would be open to challenge, on the ground of violation of Section 4 of the Act. 

20.3) If the newspapers in which the notification is published were circulating in the locality, but did not have a reasonably wide circulation in the locality, then neither the notification under section 4(1) nor the consequential acquisition proceedings, will become vitiated automatically. If the person aggrieved, apart from demonstrating that the two newspapers did not have reasonably wide circulation in the locality, also asserts that as a consequence, he did not have notice of the proposed acquisition that was provided for in Section 4(1) of the Act, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, the acquisition to the extent of the land of such person will be vitiated. But if such assertion is rebutted by the acquiring authority by placing evidence to show that the person concerned had in fact notice (as for example where he participated in the enquiry under section 5A of the Act), the acquisition will not be vitiated on the ground of violation of section 4A of the Act.

20.4) If the person challenging the acquisition is able to establish that the notifications were deliberately and with malafides, published in newspapers having negligible circulation, to avoid notice to the persons concerned, then section 4(1) will be violated.

21. The acquiring authority need not prove actual notice of the proposal to acquire under section 4(1) of the Act, to the person challenging the acquisition. As the purpose of publication of public notice provided in section 4(1) of the Act is to give notice of the proposal of acquisition to the persons concerned, such notice can also be by way of implied notice or constructive notice. For this purpose, we may refer to the difference between actual, implied and constructive notices.

21.1) When notice is directly served upon a party in a formal manner or when it is received personally by him, there is actual notice. 

21.2) If from the facts it can be inferred that a party knew about the subject matter of the notice, knowledge is imputed by implied notice. For example, if the purpose of the notice is to require a party to appear before an authority on a particular date, even though such a notice is not personally served on him, if the person appears before the authority on that date or participates in the subsequent proceedings, then the person can be said to have implied notice.

21.3) Notice arising by presumption of law from the existence of certain specified facts and circumstances is constructive or deemed notice. For example, any person purchasing or obtaining a transfer of an immovable property is deemed to have notice of all transactions relating to such property effected by registered instruments till the date of his acquisition. Or, where the statute provides for publication of the notification relating to a proposed acquisition of lands in the Gazette and newspapers and by causing public notice of the substance of the notification at convenient places in the locality, but does not provide for actual direct notice, then such provision provides for constructive notice; and on fulfillment of those requirements, all persons interested in the lands proposed for acquisition are deemed to have notice of the proposal regarding acquisition.

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