1. This petition is for a writ of mandamus directing the respondent, who is the Revenue Divisional Officer, Madurai, to make a reference to the proper court, under Section 18 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, the dispute with reference to which of the rival claimants to the land acquired is entitled to payment of compensation under the award. T. S. No. 1304/122 of an extent of 2 acres and 41,319 sq.ft. in Pailavarayan tope in West Madurai village at Madurai town was acquired for purposes of the Madurai municipality for constructing a reservoir. The award shows that the petitioners, who claim to be the Huqdars of the Peria Pallivasal in Khazimar Street, Madurai claimed the land to belong to a wakf and that the compensation for the land acquired was, therefore, payable to the Huqdars of the wakf.
After referring to the relative evidence on the question, the Revenue Divisional Officer considered that the land belonged to one Noordeen Shazuli Ibrahlm, and found accordingly in his award. The award was made on 21st November 1961, and the amount of compensation, which amounted to as much as Rs. 1,81,721.28 was paid by cheque with admirable expedition on the same day and the cheque was cashed the next day, with equal admirable expedition. It is common ground that no notice of the award went to the petitioners, and they were not present when the award was made by the respondent. According to the petitioners, they came to know of the award by a different source on 2nd December 1961. Immediately the same day, they filed a petition before the respondent, Revenue Divisional Officer, asking for making a reference under Section 18 the question as to which of the claimants was entitled to payment. On 18th December 1961, the Revenue Divisional Officer made a cryptic order:
'Award in this case has already been passed by me on 21-11-1951. The matter cannot be referred to court prayed for in the petition'.
The petitioners have come up to this court contending that this order of the Revenue Divisional Officer amounts to a refusal on his part to exercise his jurisdiction and discharge his duty cast on him by Section 18.
2. This court, on the facts noticed above, cannot but express its surprise on the manner in which the particular Revenue Divisional Officer has proceeded. The award shows that the claim of the petitioners was supported by certain documents and the same were traversed by the Revenue Divisional Officer as far as he could. He took the view, as I already indicated, that the land acquired belonged to not the wakf but Noordeen Shazuli Ibrahim.
He was of course entitled to his opinion. But what is extraordinary is the sequence of events that happened from the passing of the award. The land appears to be a very valuable one. The Revenue Divisional Officer himself assessed its value at Rs. 1,81,721-25. In a matter of this magnitude, normally one would have expected the Revenue Divisional Officer to give notice of the award to the petitioners or one of them, when they were not present when the award was actually made. One of the matters which the Revenue Divisional Officer was called upon, under Section 11, to decide is the apportionment of the compensation among the persons known or believed to be interested in the land, of whom, or of whose claims, he has information, whether or not they have respectively appeared before him.
Section 18(1) gives a person interested the liberty to ask for a reference on the question, inter alia, as to the person to whom the compensation is payable. Subsection (2) of this section provides limitation for asking for such a reference, the starting point depending upon whether the person asking for reference was present when the award was made, or in his absence a notice of the award was served on him. In either case, a period of six weeks is given from the date of the award or from the date of service of the notice of the award, as the case may be. This means that where there is a conflicting claim as to which of the claimants is entitled to payment of the compensation, the period contemplated by Section 18(2) should at least expire before the compensation amount is disbursed to the person who, according to the award, is entitled to payment. It is, therefore, surprising how the respondent directed issue of cheque the same day the award was made. It is impossible to believe that without the respondent's direction the cheque would have been issued on the same, day as the award was made. The cheque was cashed the very next day. Where there is dispute as to which of the claimants is entitled to payment, the normal course to be adopted by the officer concerned in such a situation is to make a deposit of the compensation in a court having jurisdiction and refer the question of title or disputed claim for adjudication by it and disbursement of compensation to the person finally found by the civil court to be entitled to receive the payment. How this course was not adopted is not clear in this case. What is more, why no notice of the award was given is also not clear. A mere reading of Sections 11 and 12 would be sufficient to convince any one that a person who put forward a claim to compensation, though filed before the officer, is a person interested for purposes of Section 18(1). A person interested has also been defined by Section 1 as including all persons claiming an interest in compensation to be made on account of the acquisition of the land under the Act.
3. Apart from the foregoing circumstances, when, the petitioners applied to the respondent for making a reference under Section 18, one would have expected him to properly decide the application and if he wanted to decline reference, to give his reasons therefor. But his order suggests that he was not prepared to make a reference and he flatly declined to exercise his jurisdiction and make a reference under Section 18.
4. The learned Additional Government Pleader is unable to support the order of the respondent. In fact, as I consider, it is impossible to support it. Where a person is given a statutory right and a corresponding obligation in respect of that right is cast on a public officer by the law, it is his plain duty, when called upon to do so, to exercise that duty. His failure to do so clearly amounts to a denial of his jurisdiction and a refusal to discharge a duty which is incumbent on him. The circumstances of this case clearly point to the fact that the Revenue Divisional Officer acted very arbitrarily. The learned Additional Government Pleader says that the compensation amount has already been paid to Noordeen Shazuli Ibrahim. But how this answer will have a bearing on the petitioner's request for a rule of mandamus it is difficult to see. If a wrong person has been paid, the person who is entitled; to the compensation cannot be denied the amount merely on the ground that somebody else has been paid. But that is a matter with which this petition is not concerned.
5. The petition is allowed and the rule nisi is madeabsolute. The petitioners are entitled to their costs.Counsel's fee Rs. 100.