top of page

Classification of properties of religious institutions for rent legislations will pass a challenge u

HARBHAJAN SINGH V STATE OF PUNJAB & ORS, CIVIL APPEAL NO. 3674 OF 2009 – 04.12.2019

The appeal was brought to the Supreme Court of India before the bench consisting of Honourable Justice N. V. Ramana, Honourable Justice Sanjiv Khanna, and Honourable Justice Krishna Murari

This Civil Appeal impugns the judgment dated 6th July 2006 passed by the High Court of Punjab and Haryana which dismissed five writ petitions challenging the validity of the Punjab Religious Premises and Land (Eviction and Rent Recovery) Act, 1997.

APPELLANTS CONTENTION The primary contention raised by the appellants was that as tenants they were entitled to protection against eviction under the East Punjab Rent Act, and this protection cannot be withdrawn and taken away under the Religious Premises Act. Further, it was contended that the definition of “unauthorised occupants”, as a result of explanation to clause (a) of Section 3, was highly unjust and unfair as a tenant who has been paying rent over a long period is deemed to be in “unauthorised occupation” because of the termination of the lease, licence or grant, or the time stipulated in the lease, license or grant has come to an end.

The Religious Premises Act creates an artificial classification as tenants of land and buildings belonging to or owned by “religious institutions” are no longer entitled to protection under the East Punjab Rent Act though such protection continues to be available to other tenants. Expansion or construction of a new building by a religious institution as was pleaded by SGPC in their eviction petition under the East Punjab Rent Act would not justify eviction. There is no public purpose or objective in enacting the law, that is, the Religious Premises Act, which has become a calculable device and means to increase the income of the religious institutions.

There was a crucial distinction between the government and private landlords and, therefore, for the same reasoning in inverse, the appellant contended that the present appeal should be allowed as the Religious Premises Act creates an artificial distinction and discriminates against the tenants of “religious institutions”, though “religious institutions” as landlords are not a separate class. Thus, it was asserted that the Religious Premises Act should be declared unconstitutional and illegal as it violates Article 14 of the Constitution.

RESPONDENTS CONTENTION

The respondents, namely, the State of Punjab and also SGPC, contested the said submissions and contentions.

The East Punjab Rent Act was enacted in the year 1949, soon after the Partition, with a view to protect tenants and to curtail the right of the landlords to seek eviction notwithstanding the contract under the provisions of the Transfer of Property Act, 1882, (“Transfer of Property Act”, for short) which is a general enactment regulating landlord and tenant relationships. There cannot be any doubt that the State legislature, that is, the Legislative Assembly of the State of Punjab was entitled to enact the Religious Premises Act, despite the fact that they had enacted the East Punjab Rent Act. It was contended that judicial notice must be taken and accepted by acknowledging that the State legislature while enacting the Religious Premises Act was aware that it has enacted East Punjab Rent Act, an existing statute governing landlord and tenant relationship. However, the State legislature in its wisdom had deemed it appropriate to enact a law in respect of land and buildings belonging to “religious institutions”. The validity of the Religious Premises Act, a special enactment concerning landlord and tenant relationships, cannot be challenged on the ground that there are already two other enactments governing general landlord and tenant relationships (Transfer of Property Act and East Punjab Rent Act). The Constitution confers the power and authority on the State to enact two separate enactments on a similar subject if they seek to achieve different objectives and protect and preserve different sets of rights and make necessary classification to serve such varied ends. The Religious Premises Act, unlike the East Punjab Rent Act and the Public Premises Act, concerns itself with the administration of premises belonging to religious institutions and seeks to regulate their rights as landlords vis-à-vis the tenants in occupation.

Whether the properties of the religious institutions for the purpose of rent control legislations can be treated as a separate category?

This question was no longer res Integra as this aspect was examined in several decisions where this Court had held that separate classification of properties of religious institutions for rent legislations will pass a challenge under Article 14 of the Constitution.

While examining the question of religious institutions as a separate and distinguishable class, this Court had expounded on the scope of Article 14 of the Constitution and the kind of classification that would stand the test of Article 14 of the Constitution.

Therefore, the classification of properties of “religious institutions” as a separate and distinctive class of properties would not fall foul or be violative of Article 14 of the Constitution. It was elucidated that whether a tenancy act should be applicable to religious institutions or should be kept out is not an aspect that the Court would decide. It was instead for the legislature to determine the extent of applicability of such tenancy laws to religious institutions and the extent of protection that should be made available. This Court, therefore, rejected the argument that religious institutions as landlords or tenants of religious institutions cannot be treated and regarded as a separate category in respect of whom protection as available to other tenants under the rent law would not be available. Such classification cannot be a ground or the basis to interfere with the validity of an act or provision. However, it was observed that the Courts can interfere when the policy is irrational.

JUDGEMENT DELIVERED

The issue of whether the properties of the religious institutions for the purpose of rent control legislations can be treated as a separate category is no longer res integra as this aspect was examined in several decisions where this Court has held that separate classification of properties of religious institutions for rent legislations will pass a challenge under Article 14 of the Constitution.

Thereby, this Honourable Court delivered its judgment as under,

“As noticed above, valid grants, leases, and allotments are not construed and treated as an unauthorised occupation. It is only when the terms of the grant, lease or allotment are not adhered to or have been determined or the period of allotment, lease or grant as fixed has come to an end, that the person in occupation is treated to be in unauthorised occupation. This is a pre-condition that confers the right on the religious institution to seek eviction of a person in unauthorised occupation of the religious premises.

Further, an order passed by the Collector is appealable before the Commissioner and if still aggrieved, a tenant can invoke the writ jurisdiction of the High Court, as mentioned above. Therefore, the power of judicial review is always available and can be exercised by the High Court when required and necessary.  Accordingly, we do not find any merit in the present appeal and the same is dismissed. However, in the facts of this case, there would be no order as to costs.”

Tanvi Srivatsan

コメント


Articles

bottom of page