26 Sep 2023 5:00 AM GMT
The Calcutta High Court has dismissed a plea challenging the passage of a “high-tension transmission line” overhead of a plot of land owned by the St. Mary’s Technological Foundation, which catered to Christian minorities and students from weaker sections of society. The line in question was being installed by the WBSETCL, and the petitioners claimed that such a high-tension overhead...
The Calcutta High Court has dismissed a plea challenging the passage of a “high-tension transmission line” overhead of a plot of land owned by the St. Mary’s Technological Foundation, which catered to Christian minorities and students from weaker sections of society.
The line in question was being installed by the WBSETCL, and the petitioners claimed that such a high-tension overhead line on their property was “virtually rendering it impossible for the petitioners to set up and run the educational institution proposed for the religious minorities and weaker sections of society” on the said plot.
In dismissing the arguments of the petitioners, while holding that the right to religious freedom ought to be balanced with overwhelming public interest, a single-bench of Justice Sabyasachi Bhattacharya held:
It is well-settled that the right to get electricity has been read as a component of Article 21 of the Constitution, conferring the right to life. [As the Apex Court held] the provisions of the Telegraph Act, 1885, unobstructed access to lay down telegraph and/or electricity transmission lines is an imperative in the larger public interest, necessary for growth and development of a country and economy and the wellbeing and progress of the citizens. The key is, thus, to strike a balance between Article 30 of the Constitution and overwhelming public interest. The High Tension transmission line is to cater to huge sections of society, in the locality and elsewhere, including the petitioners themselves, who would also be beneficiaries thereof. Such overwhelming public interest cannot be brushed aside to give precedence to the right of the petitioners under Article 30(1), as held by the Five-Judge Bench in Islamic Academy (2003).
Petitioners had argued that they were absolute owners of the plot in question, and that they were running a technical campus on the said land to serve educational interest of minority communities and weaker sections in eastern India and is approved by several Universities and educational institutions.
It was submitted that the WBSETCL was attempting to install a high-powered transmission line overhead the petitioner’s plot, which was in violation of their right under Article 30 of the Constitution which conferred upon minorities the right to establish and administer their own educational institution, without interference from the state.
Petitioner’s submitted that according to the Apex Court rights under Article 30 & 31, unlike rights under Article 19, were an absolute right, not subject to reasonable restrictions, but instead a “real right” which allowed minorities to set up and run educational institutions of their choice.
Respondent-authorities argued that the right under Article 30 was not absolute. It was submitted that right to electricity had been read into the fundamental right of life by Indian Courts, and that the transmission line would cater to many people in various localities.
Respondents relied on the Telegraph Act, 1885 and various Apex Court judgements to reiterate that the laying down of electricity or transmission lines were imperative in the larger public interest. Electrification of villages all over the country and availability of telegraph lines are the most essential requirements for growth and development of the country and the economy and the well-being and progress of citizens,
It was submitted that 17 out of 20 towers had already been installed and that the petitioners had not objected to earlier notifications which had been made regarding installation of wires over their property.
Respondents argued that the towers will not be set up on the petitioners land and that only the high-tension wires would run at a height of 14.2 metres above the ground over the petitioner’s property, not adversely affecting them in any way. It was submitted that even the petitioners had asked for an electricity connection from the high-tension line.
Upon hearing the argument of both parties, the Court looked at the contrasting rights under Article 30 and Article 21 of the Constitution.
It was held that even in the decisions were Article 19 was not held to be a fetter on the absolute rights under Article 30, the bar on the State is not to acquire any property belonging to a minority institution altogether but with regard to payment of adequate compensation to such a minority institution.
In balancing the right to freedom of religion with the right to life, the Court held that any claim for compensation by those aggrieved would lie before the District Magistrate, with appeals lying before the District Judge.
The appropriate stage for demanding compensation by the petitioners would only be once the work is completed and the compensation to be granted, if at all, to the petitioners could be assessed by the appropriate authority. In case of dispute, the petitioners can very well approach the District Judge having jurisdiction to ventilate their grievances and claim adequate compensation, it was held.
Finally, in holding that the drawing of a high-tension wire above the petitioners land would not tantamount to “acquisition” of the petitioner’s property by the State, the Court dismissed the plea but left it open for the petitioners to approach the appropriate authority for appropriate compensation.
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Cal) 294
Case: St. Mary’s Technological Foundation and Another Vs. The West Bengal State Electricity Transmission Company Limited and Others
Case No: WPA 9943/2023
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