No Harm In Appearing Before Court Through Video Conference: Top Court

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 Top Court To Defence Ministry

Supreme Court said there is no harm in appearing through video conferencing.

New Delhi:

"There is no harm in appearing through video conferencing", the Supreme Court on Thursday told to secretary of Ministry of Defence, who has been asked to appear before the Madhya Pradesh High Court in a contempt case related to a land compensation matter.

The top court was hearing the plea filed by Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar seeking stay of the high court order of August 18 directing him to appear before it in a contempt case on Thursday through video conferencing.

It was informed that the high court adjourned the matter by one week. 

"List the matter after two weeks," said the order by a bench comprising Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, which orally observed, "there is no harm in appearing through video conferencing".

Additional Solicitor General KM Nataraj, who appeared for the Defence Secretary, contended that the issue is not even remotely connected with the officer.  

"The entire matter is pending with the reference court to adjudicate the claim regarding compensation. How can the amount be disbursed without adjudicating," he said.

He said that the High Court had without going into the facts and circumstances of the case directed the secretary of the Ministry of Defence to appear in the matter.

He added that the entire matter regarding the adjudication on the compensation is already pending before the Reference Court therefore and no purpose would be served in calling the Defence Secretary to give any explanation.

The dispute in the matter got triggered after the Central government on May 6, 2016, issued notification imposing restrictions, specified under provisions of the Works of Defence Act, 1903, upon the use and enjoyment of the land lying in the vicinity of Military Station Sukhlalpur, in Jabalpur district of Madhya Pradesh.

The High Court, while disposing of writ petitions filed by certain aggrieved persons had in 2017 directed appropriate steps be taken to determine the damages and payment of damages on account of imposition of restrictions in regard to use of lands within a period of six months.  

The plea filed by defence secretary, through advocate Sachin Sharma, said that aggrieved persons have filed three frivolous contempt petitions before the High Court.  

It said that they have told the High Court by way of affidavit that the order which has been sought to be complied with primarily rest with the collector, as in accordance to the requirement of Works of Defence Act, 1903 (WODA) he is the competent authority to proceed for the determination of the compensation amount.

The petition said that from perusal of the various affidavits filed before the High Court in contempt petitions by any stretch of imagination "it cannot be construed that there is any willful disobedience of any of the orders passed by the Court".

It said that the Petitioners had apprised the court of each and every step taken by the collector who is the ultimate authority to disburse the compensation to the parties concerned and the impugned order dated August 18, is not sustainable in the eyes of law.  

"It is worth mentioning that the delay in disbursement of the compensation to the Respondents is only attributable to the Collector Land Acquisition who not once but thrice committed an error in calculating the compensation and thereafter revised the same," the plea said.

It added that when the final calculation was done by the Collector vide order dated September 27, 2019 the same was challenged by the Petitioner before the Reference Court under section 18 of the WODA.  

It is further submitted that "even the Collector Land acquisition was confused between the provisions of WODA, the Land Acquisition Act, and the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act of 2013".

"Since the matter was already sub-judice before the Reference Court to adjudicate the Application under section 18 of the WODA, there is no role whatsoever of the Defence Secretary to come and explain the steps taken towards compliance of the order dated August 30, 2017", it said.

On November 13, 2018, the Collector (Land Acquisition) Jabalpur, without going into the fact that the present proceedings were governed by the Work of Defence Act and not by the Land Acquisition Act erroneously made an initial award of over Rs 10 crores.  

On January 25, 2019, the Collector (Land Acquisition) Jabalpur, while correcting the earlier calculation, made an erroneous award of over Rs Six crores without applying the provisions of the Works and Defence Act. On September 27, 2019, the collector without going into the facts and circumstances of the case and contrary to the criteria provided under the Works of Defence Act, again recalculated the compensation amount of nearly Rs two crores.  

On July 31, 2020, the ministry of Defence being aggrieved by the recalculation done by the Collector of nearly Rs two crores contrary to the provisions of Works of Defence Act, filed an application before the appropriate forum.

That matter was on August 17, 2020 was referred by the Collector to the District Judge/Reference Court for adjudication of the issue pertaining to the determination of the Compensation amount.

However, the High Court on August 18 while hearing a contempt petition asked the Defence secretary and others to appear on October 8, before it to explain the situation. 

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