What do you do when the government wants to literally grab your land for a pittance? And what do you do when the government enacts a law to specifically achieve this purpose?
If you are Mario Cotta Pereira, you fight until you get justice, even if it takes 20 years.
Because in the end, the High Court of Bombay at Goa gave Mario relief in the form of Rs 9.15 crore in place of the Rs 1.37 lakh offered to him by the government for the land.
Mario had challenged the validity of the Goa (Allotment of Plots of Certain Displaced Persons) Act, 2016, which was essentially a single-person legislation enacted to acquire his property and not others.
Mario’s property located at Aquem, Margao, was ‘requisitioned’ by the Union Territory administrator on January 14, 1964, under provisions of the Defence of India Act.
This was done to accommodate 40 to 50 persons who were displaced due to the acquisition of their properties for the establishment of 2 STC regiments at Salcete. However, the compensation for such requisition was not determined.
On May 19, 1991 ,a compensation of Rs 54,662 was offered to Mario but the same was never paid.
Mario made several attempts to settle the matter amicably. When that failed, he filed a civil suit claiming compensation. The civil court dismissed his appeal on grounds that it was barred by the statute of limitations.
Undeterred, Mario knocked on the doors of the High Court which held that the suit was not barred by limitation and directed the trial court to hear it.
During the pendency of the case, the Goa Legislative Assembly in 2016 passed the above-mentioned law to acquire Mario’s land and pay him the rate prevailing in 1964 when it was requisitioned. That is, at Rs 3.83 per sq mts, which amounted to Rs 1.37 lakh.
Mario once again knocked on the doors of the High Court. What came to his rescue was a 2013 legislation enacted by Parliament to give land owners fair compensation for land acquired by the government.
When the Goa Assembly passed a law to acquire Mario’s land at the 1964 rates it came into conflict with the fair compensation act of Parliament. And in such a situation, it is the Central law that supersedes the State legislation. This principle was upheld by the High Court.
While ruling in favour of Mario, High Court Justices R N Laddha and M S Sonak observed, “The state’s object of rehabilitation of the displaced persons may be noble and even in public interest. But the same cannot be entirely at the cost and drastic consequences for the petitioner. There can be no equity in robbing Peter to pay Paul”.
Accordingly, the High Court ruled that compensation should be paid to Mario at the rate of Rs 2,564 per sq mtrs which totals up to Rs 9.15 crore for the land acquired by the government.