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P&H HC: Grant of NOC for Land Use Not Give Immunity to Landowner Against Acquisition, Not Attracts Principle of Promissory Estoppel

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Khushi Bajpai

Published on: 02nd August 2022 at 18:28 IST

The Punjab and Haryana High Court recently made certain important observations as to the non-applicability of promissory estoppel against for “public purpose” under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894.

A Division Bench of Chief Justice Ravi Shankar Jha and Justice Arun Palli observed that, “Once permission is granted/NOC is granted for setting up of college and thereafter, State cannot acquire it for all time to come, this may lead to an anomalous situation which may not be in the larger public interest and would amount to “public interest” making way for “private interest” which is not permissible at any costs/under any circumstances…”

“…doctrine of “legitimate expectation” or the principle of “promissory estoppel” can’t be pressed into service where the public interest is likely to suffer as against the personal interest of a party.”

The present case was contested by petitioners stating that the government is restricted from acquiring the land under the rule of “promissory estoppel” contended that state government is barred by the rule of “promissory estoppel” from acquiring the land for which it had issued NOC to them. The bench while rejecting this contention of petitioners observed:

The factum of grant of NOC for establishing the college would not be an impediment for the State Government to acquire the land in accordance with the provisions of the applicable Land Acquisition Act.”

The Bench held that the grant of NOC/license/ CLU or any other permission would not give the landowner a right to set up a plea of “promissory estoppel” against the State.

It held that the land in question is requires for development of industrial infrastructure which constitutes “public purpose”. The bench also observed that since long time has lapsed from the date of acquisition, even if due to the change in the planning if the land in question is sought to be utilized for any other public purpose, there would no impediment for same in view of the settled proposition of law.

The Court rejected the argument of the petitioners regarding violation of Article 14 of the Constitution of India. The petitioner have to show that they are identically situated to such persons in whose favour discrimination is being pleaded to prove discrimination on part of the state. The Court observed that petitioners have not placed on any material to support its contention of discrimination.

While passing the decision the Court also relied on Indore Development Authority v. Union of India, wherein the Apex Court has held that once the possession of the land is taken by the State, person retaining the possession is merely a “trespasser”.

The Court held that the land stood vested when interim stay was granted, and that the petitioners deserves to be non-suited on the ground that the land stands vested in the State.