The Gujarat High Court has denounced the misuse of recently-enacted Gujarat Land Grabbing Act, 2020 followed by the invocation of Gujarat Prevention of Antisocial Activities Act (PASA) in private property disputes.
A Single-Judge Bench of Justice Paresh Upadhyay passed this order while hearing a petition filed by Ramjibhai Nathubhai Charola, Ganguben and Sobhaben.
Challenge in all these petitions is made to the identical but separate orders passed by the District Magistrate, Amreli, dated February 17, 2021, whereby the petitioners are treated as ‘property grabbers’ and detained under the Gujarat Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act, 1985.
The execution of the orders was suspended by the Court order dated March 18, 2021 and the petitioners were directed to be released, for the reasons recorded in the said order.
In pursuant to the order of the Court dated March 18, 2021, affidavit in reply dated August 11, 2021 was filed on behalf of the detaining Authority – the incumbent, which is on record. Not only is there no justification to invoke PASA in private property disputes, the action of the State is further aggravated by the said reply.
“The above would show that the justification put forward by the State Authorities to resort to PASA is that, had that not been done, the petitioners would have taken the help of advocates for continuing illegal activities. If any citizen faces action from the State and if he resorts to the legal remedy available to him, and if the citizen is protected, any attempt to obstruct it, may be viewed very seriously and even the option of initiating proceedings under the Contempt of Court Act, can also be explored”, the Court observed.
Having heard advocates for the respective parties and having considered the material on record, including the affidavit in reply, the Court found that the detaining authority has exercised the powers, treating the petitioners as ‘property grabbers, ’ within the meaning of Section 2(h) of the Act.
The Court held that the distinction between ‘the law and order’ and ‘the public order’ needs to be kept in mind, in view of the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Pushker Mukherjee v/s. State of West Bengal.
The Court said the order, on facts, fails on this test. The impugned order, therefore, needs to be quashed and set aside.
“It is noted that on the grounds of detention, the detaining authority has recorded to the effect that according to him, the activities of the petitioner create a sense of alarm and feeling of insecurity in the minds of public at large, however on weighing this vis-a-vis the material on record, the Court finds that the citation of such words is more in the nature of rituals rather than with any significance to the alleged activities of the petitioner. In totality, the order is unsustainable and needs to be quashed and set aside,” the Court said.
“It is noted that on the basis of one FIR, at least four detention orders are passed and two of them are ladies. The complainant resides in Mumbai. The enthusiasm on part of the State Authorities to throw the weight of the state in favour of one of the contesting parties, in the matters of private property disputes, may lend the state in an embarrassing position one day,” it added.
The Bench further said that in property disputes – the financial stakes from both sides may be very high. “This may also lead to temptation to one of the parties, for soliciting help from the revenue and the police officers, for the considerations lesser known to law. These are the dangers which need to be kept in view by the Higher Authorities of the State,” it added.
The Court ordered that all petitions are allowed. The orders passed by the District Magistrate, Amreli dated February 17, 2021 are quashed and set aside. Since the petitioners were already ordered to be set at liberty by earlier order of the Court, no further direction needs to be given in that regard.