1. A terse issue, but which can have ramifications in matters relating to acquisitions under the National Highways Act, 1956, is placed for resolution in these matters; being if the Competent Authority for Land Acquisition, under the aforesaid Act, can review or modify an Award issued by it earlier.
2. I will first explain how this issue has been presented in these two cases which require to be disposed of together, since the reliefs to be granted in one will certainly have a bearing on the reliefs to be granted in the other.
3. The petitioners in these cases are stated to be the owners of properties which were acquired by the National Highway Authorities of India (NHAI) and with respect to which, Awards have been issued by the Competent Authority for Land Acquisition (CALA). They have produced the Awards as Ext.P2 in both cases.
4. The petitioner in W.P(C)No.1996/2021, however, alleges that even after Ext.P2 Award had been issued as early as on 27.12.2019, the CALA, thereafter, modified it through Ext.P6, reducing the value of structures and land therein and asserts that this is illegal and unlawful.
5. As far as the petitioner in W.P(C)No.12458/2021 is concerned, she appears to have approached this Court because, after Ext.P2 Award was made in her favour, Ext.P3 notice has been issued on 21.10.2020, asking her to produce certain documents for the purpose of modifying the said Award.
6. The petitioners in these cases, therefore, contend that the afore action of the CALA - in having modified the Award, as far as W.P(C)No.1996/2021 is concerned; and in attempting to do so in W.P(C)No.12458/2021 - is illegal and unlawful and thus pray that Ext.P6 in the former Writ Petition and Ext.P3 in the latter be quashed.
7. The learned Government Pleader – Smt.Reshmi Thomas, in response, submitted that the impugned proceedings have been issued by the CALA on account of certain subsequent instructions issued by the NHAI to its Project Director. She submitted that, therefore, the CALA had no other option but to issue the impugned proceedings and therefore, prayed that these Writ Petitions be dismissed.
8. Sri.Mathews K. Philip – learned Standing Counsel for the NHAI, conceded that the Project Director had received certain Instructions from the NHAI on 11.08.2020 - a copy of which has been placed on record as Annexure R1(a) - in which, the assessment and quantification of the compensation has been suggested to be done in a particular manner. He submitted that since Ext.P2 Awards in these cases had been settled prior to Annexure R1(a), the CALA was justified in having issued the impugned proceedings.
9. However, to a pointed question from this court, Sri.Mathews K. Philip conceded that there are no specific statutory provisions enabling the CALA to review or modify settled Awards, except to correct patent errors.
10. I have evaluated the afore submissions and have also gone through the materials available on record.
11. The powers and competence of the CALA are clearly specified, enumerated and detailed in the N.H.Act. As per Section 3G thereof, where any land is acquired under the Act, there shall be paid an amount to be determined by the CALA. The said Authority is empowered and authorised to make such determination with respect to the value of the acquired land in terms of Section 3G(7) of the Act and then Section 3G(5) provides that if either of the parties is dissatisfied with the amount so arrived at by the CALA, they can seek it to be determined by the Arbitrator to be appointed by the Central Government.
12. It is thus incontestable that upon the CALA determining the amount under Section 3G of the Act and issuing the resultant Award, he is rendered functus officio and cannot, thereafter, assume any further Statutory jurisdiction with respect to the same. The CALA can, at the best, correct patent typographical or clerical errors, but is proscribed from dealing with the published Award on its merits, in any manner, thereafter. Therefore, by no means can the CALA modify his earlier Award or attempt to do so and any step in such direction by it will have to be declared as being without legal competence.
13. That being so said, there is no doubt – it being admitted - that the Awards in question were settled on 27.12.2019; while Annexure R1(a) instructions were issued by the NHAI only on 11.08.2020. Therefore, even if it is taken for the sake of argument that the CALA is bound by the same, I fail to understand how the said Authority could have reviewed or attempted to review the Awards passed prior to it, as has been done through the impugned proceedings. This is more so because, as is also admitted by Sri.Mathews K. Philip, the competent Authority of the NHAI could have challenged the Awards, dated 27.12.2019, under the provisions of Section 3(G) (5) of the National Highways Act; and I fail to understand why and under what authority the CALA has suo motu reviewed the Awards or attempted to do so.
14. Before I conclude, I must also record that, when this matter was earlier considered by this Court, I had directed the learned Government Pleader to obtain instructions on the competence of the CALA to have modified the Awards or in attempting to do so. However, even today, the learned Government Pleader has not been able to show me any enabling statutory provision and I can only therefore, conclude that the said Authority has acted without sanction of law.
In the afore circumstances, I allow these Writ Petitions and set aside Ext.P6 in W.P(C)No.1996/2021 and Ext.P3 in W.P(C)No.12458/2021; with a consequential direct
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ion to the competent Authority to ensure that the compensation eligible to the petitioners under the Awards dated 27.12.2019 is disbursed to them without any avoidable delay, but not later than two months from the date of receipt of a copy of this judgment. Needless to say, the right of the NHAI to challenge the Awards, dated 27.12.2019, under the provisions of Section 3(G)(5) of the National Highways Act, has not been spoken by me in this judgment and they are at liberty to do so, subject to their entitlement in law and the prescriptions of limitation, without being trammelled or hampered by any of my observations above.