Patiala Division Commissioner’s working under High Court lens

Saurabh Malik

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, July 1

The working of the Patiala Division Commissioner during the Covid-induced lockdown has come under judicial scanner in a land acquisition matter.

Taking up a petition alleging the passing of an order by the Commissioner when the entire government machinery was virtually in hibernation, the Punjab and Haryana High Court today stayed the operation of the impugned order. A notice of motion was also issued to the Patiala Division Commissioner and other respondents.

The order by Justice Arun Monga came on a petition filed against the Arbitrator-cum-Commissioner by Asha Rani and other owners of the land in Khamano, Fatehgarh Sahib, through counsels Charanpal Singh Bagri and Gurjit Kaur Bagri. Appearing before Justice Monga’s Bench through videoconferencing, Bagri contended the government had declared a lockdown owing to the pandemic and citizens across the country were advised to stay indoors. The entire government machinery had placed under suspension the visits by people to public offices. The holding of public hearings was also suspended to avoid the community spread of the disease.

Notwithstanding, the Arbitrator-cum-Commissioner, Patiala Division, passed the impugned order on May 22 while hearing dispute regarding compensation to the petitioners for their land acquired by the National Highway Authority of India.

Taking up an application pending before him, the Commissioner directed that the National Highway Authority of India would deposit Rs 75 lakhs per acre and the land’s possession would be handed over to the highway authority subject to disbursement of the amount to the landowners. Bagri added the order was passed without issuing notice to the petitioners and in the absence of their representatives.

“Prima facie, it seems that the case was taken up by the Arbitrator without any notice to the petitioners and the impugned order also appears to have been passed behind their back. Without commenting on the merits of the impugned order dated May 22, this Court is of the view that the petitioners ought to have been heard before passing of the same,” Justice Monga asserted. Issuing notice of motion for August 25, Justice Monga added the operation of impugned order would remain stayed till the next date of hearing.