Orders recovery; pulls up officers for modifying final order
Land losers from Pernem who received compensation from the Goa government prior to the elections -- including some who were handed cheques by former minister Manohar “Babu” Ajgaonkar -- will now have to return the money after the Bombay High Court at Goa ruled that the money was illegally handed to them.
The High Court has pulled up two land acquisition officers Ravishankar Nipanikar and Sudhir Kerkar for having “in total disregard of the legal position and breach of the principles of natural justice and fair play” gone ahead and modified the final order of compensation passed by their predecessor land acquisition officer.
By final award dated 29.10.2015, N M Gad the then Land Acquisition Officer declared a compensation amounting to more than Rs 25 crore -- but owing to disputes for apportionment of the compensation, referred the disputes for apportionment of compensation for determination by the District Court under Section 30 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894. The compensation amount was also directed to be deposited in the District Court.
Four years later in 2019 Ravishankar Nipanikar, who took over as the land acquisition officer disbursed an amount of over Rs 5 crore to those, who claimed that they were the tenants of the acquired property. This claim was entirely premised on certain entries in survey records.
He did so after securing an indemnity bond from the recipients that he would not be liable should any loss be accrued on account of the disbursal.
Similarly, another land acquisition officer Sudhir Kerkar disbursed an amount of Rs 9 crore to another set of beneficiaries after they produced a declaration of tenancy and purchase sanads in addition to revenue records.
Both disbursals were completely illegal, the High Court ruled.
“It is apparent that Nipanikar and Kerkar had no power, authority, or jurisdiction to tinker with the final award dated 29.10.2015, almost four years after such award was made, that is on 02.11.2019. The two officers, almost four years after N M Gad made the final award dated 29.10.2015, have reviewed the same, and virtually vacated or modified the order of reference under Section 30 of the said Act,” the High Court observed.
“These are not some simple procedural lapses as was sought to be contended by the learned Counsel for some of the respondents. Instead, these are serious breaches of substantive law. The two officers have usurped jurisdiction which was not vested in them and proceeded to review the final award made by their predecessor without even minimum regard to the principles of natural justice and fair play or the limits of their power, authority and jurisdiction,” the High Court also said.
“The decision-making process is entirely flawed. The plea of alleged good faith is too lame to defend or justify the actions of the two officers,” the High Court further said.
“The State Government must take expeditious steps to recover the amounts from the private respondents. The State should consider involving Nipanikar and Kerkar in recovering these amounts totaling Rs 15 crore. But for their illegal and ultra vires acts, such a situation might not have arisen,” the High Court ruled while also imposing costs of Rs 25,000 each on Nipanikar and Kerkar for their misdeeds.