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Overriding Effect Of Rent Control Legislations Over Public Premises Act In Exceptional Circumstance

Harsha Asnani

1. Introduction

In an earlier article, the author had discussed the interplay between the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorized Occupants) Act, 1971 (“PPE Act”) and the rent control legislations regarding applicability of the PPE Act on protected tenants.

One of the principal provisions of the PPE Act is Section 15 which grants exclusive jurisdiction to the Estate Officers to deal with all aspects covered under the PPE Act and overrides the rent control legislations qua such aspects. However, the PPE Act does not provide guidance as to whether it shall have overriding effect over ancillary matters which are not covered within the scheme of Act as well. The PPE Act vests exclusive jurisdiction upon an Estate Officer to try tenancy matters of public premises as far as they relate to power to order eviction of unauthorized occupants, recovery of rent and damages and removal/demolition/sealing unauthorized constructions. However, it does not stipulate as to whether ancillary matters such as fixation of rent, restoration of essential services shall be dealt with in accordance the PPE Act or any other statute, particularly the rent control legislations containing express provisions to such effect. PPE Act does not contain any express provision conferring power upon the Estate Officer to adjudicate upon any ancillary tenancy related matters.

2. Judicial Trend

The aforementioned question was raised before the Supreme Court in the matter of Banatwala & Co. v LIC wherein the Court analysed the scheme of the PPE Act and Maharashtra Rent Control Act, 1999, (“”MRC Act”)along with landmark judgements in the case of Ashoka Marketing Limited v. Punjab National Bank, Jain Ink manufacturing Co. v. LIC. The Court observed that PPE Act is very limited in its scope and application and does not cover any ancillary tenancy aspects. Therefore, to the extent of such ancillary matters, there does not arise any question of conflict let alone repugnancy between the PPE Act and rent control legislations. It was held that in relation to such ancillary matters, the jurisdiction of the Civil Courts/ Rent Courts are not ousted by virtue of Section 15 of the PPE Act.

The Apex Court also analyzed the nature of proceedings under the two legislations. It observed that the MRC Act being a welfare statute is enacted after considering the requirements of the tenants, and contains provisions for fixation of standard rent and for restoring essential services and supplies when necessary. The public premises are not specifically exempted from the applicability of the MRC Act. That being so, there is no reason to hold that these remedies will not be available to the tenants of the public premises, though for the purposes of eviction of unauthorised occupants and recovery of arrears of rent, the proceedings will lie only under the PPE Act. It is also to be noted that the proceedings for the recovery of arrears of rent are at the instance of landlord, whereas those for fixation of standard rent are at the instance of the tenant. Both these proceedings are quite different in their prayers and scope of consideration.

In another case before the Bombay High Court, in the matter of United India Assurance Company Ltd. v. Vulcan Association & Ors., a Single Bench was dealing with permanent injunction matter seeking for restraining the Appellant from preventing or obstructing the Plaintiffs from parking their cars in the compound. It was opined that the Small Causes Court shall have jurisdiction to try such matters by virtue of Section 41(1) of the Small Causes Court Act wherein a Small Causes Court has wide sweeping powers for trying matters "relating to the recovery of possession". Given that the PPE Act does not provide for a similar remedy, it cannot be said that it shall have exclusive applicability.

Another tenancy related issue for which tenants approach the Court is declaratory suits wherein the tenants seek for declaration of right of tenancy in their favour. While placing reliance on the judgements of Banatwala and Vulcan Association, a Single Bench of the Bombay High Court has opined that since such remedies are not envisaged under the PPE Act, therefore, to such extent there being no repugnancy, the civil courts shall have jurisdiction to adjudicate these matters.

However, in another case of Union of India v. LaxmanSathe ,a single judge bench of the Bombay High Court while dealing with a declaratory suit related matter was of the opinion that such suits as far as they contain prayers for declaration of rights of the alleged tenants in respect of the subject premises shall be adjudicated under proceedings before an Estate Officer. In view of the bar created under Section 10 of the PPE Act, the tenant cannot challenge the proceedings in the Civil Court so as to override the provisions of the PPE Act. The Estate Officer is the most competent person to decide such issues.

3. Pending Reference

The ratio laid down under Alexander Pothen is also under challenge before a larger bench of the Supreme Court. To the best knowledge of the author, the said reference is still pending before the Supreme Court.

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