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Supreme Court grants petitioner leave to defend eviction petition filed against him

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The Supreme Court on Thursday, set aside the order of the Delhi High Court which allowed a revision petition filed by the tenant, granting him leave to defend the eviction petition filed by the landlord.

Focus of the Supreme Court in the appeal is on the exercise of the revisional power by the High Court of Delhi in its invocation of proviso to Section 25B(8) of the Delhi Rent Control Act, 1958.

Haji Badrul Islam (since deceased) was the original owner of the two shops leased out to the respondent orally way back in the year 1970. The lease continued for decades. After the demise of the original landlord, his son  Sajid-Ul-Islam became the owner both by inheritance and by virtue of an award dated 11.03.1980. He too expired on 21.11.1986 and the appellant, who claims through the award and inheritance by operation of law, filed the eviction petition under Section 14(1)(e) read with Section 25B of the Act in the year 2014.

The respondent filed an application seeking leave to defend, inter alia, raising three primary contentions, namely, 
(i) the appellant is not having title over the property; 
(ii) the property actually belongs to the Government of India under the Enemy Property Act, 1968  and 
(iii) there are alternative accommodations by way of other properties available for carrying out the business of the appellant as such the need of the appellant is not bona fide.

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The  Rent Controller dismissed the application holding that the title of the appellant cannot be questioned by the respondent, the averments regarding the suitability of alternative accommodation are vague and the embargo under the Enemy Property Act would not be made applicable to the properties in question. Incidentally, the bona fide need of the appellant has also been discussed by the learned Rent Controller.

The respondent, being dissatisfied with the said decision of the learned Rent Controller, approached the High Court of Delhi invoking the proviso to Section 25B(8) of the Act. Despite holding that the respondent cannot question the title of the appellant, having filed a suit acknowledging the said factum, the revision was allowed on the premise that there are triable issues as the denial of the appellant on the defence of the appellant qua the issue of alternative accommodation is vague.

Assailing the aforesaid decision rendered by the High Court, the  landlord approached the Supreme Court.

A bench comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and MM Sundresh were more concerned with the scope and ambit of the proviso to Section 25B(8). The proviso creates a distinct and unequivocal embargo by not providing an appeal against the order passed by the  Rent Controller over an application filed under sub-section (5). The intendment of the legislature is very clear, which is to remove the appellate remedy and thereafter, a further second appeal. It is a clear omission that is done by the legislature consciously through a covenant removing the right of two stages of appeals.

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The Court observed that proviso to Section 25B(8) gives the High Court exclusive power of revision against an order of the learned Rent Controller, being in the nature of superintendence over an inferior court on the decision making process, inclusive of procedural compliance. Thus, the High Court is not expected to substitute and supplant its views with that of the trial Court by exercising the appellate jurisdiction. Its role is to satisfy itself in the process adopted. The scope of interference by the High Court is very restrictive and except in cases where there is an error apparent on the face of the record, which would only mean that in the absence of any adjudication per se, the High Court should not venture to disturb such a decision. There is no need for holding a roving inquiry in such matters which would otherwise amount to converting the power of superintendence into that of a regular first appeal, an act totally forbidden by the legislature.

It is noted by the Bench that the Rent Controller passed a detailed speaking order. On undertaking such an exercise, he found that the bona fide need is satisfied; the averments of the respondent regarding alternative accommodation are vague; the title of the appellant cannot be questioned; and the embargo under the Enemy Property Act does not get attracted. Thus, having found that the defense set up by the respondent is only a moonshine, the application filed seeking leave to defend was accordingly rejected.

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After completing the aforesaid process, the Court made certain observations in addition to the order on merits, giving its indictment on the conduct of the respondent, who dropped the names of not only a District Judge but also a High Court Judge, certainly not germane to the case. The High Court, while ignoring the aforesaid conduct of the respondent, as noted by the  Rent Controller, proceeded to allow the revision by treating it like an appeal. It did not even reverse the findings of the Rent Controller, but proceeded to hold that the denials of the appellant in his reply to the application seeking leave to defend are vague, qua the plea of alternative accommodation, notwithstanding the rejection of the contention of the respondent that he cannot question the title. This approach, in  view of the Supreme Court , cannot be sustained in the eye of law.

The Court held that Section 14(1)(e) deals with only the requirement of a bona fide purpose. The contention regarding alternative accommodation can at best be only an incidental one. Such a requirement has not been found to be incorrect by the High Court, though it is not even open to it to do so, in view of the limited jurisdiction which it was supposed to exercise. Therefore, the very basis upon which the revision was allowed is obviously wrong being contrary to the very provision contained in Section 14(1)(e) and Section 25B(8).

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“We are constrained to note that the respondent continued to drop the names of persons holding high offices even before us. He proudly proclaimed during his argument that the proceedings under the Enemy Property Act, as amended, were initiated only at his instance on his personally meeting with an Hon’ble Union Minister. We can only adopt the process undertaken by the learned Rent Controller by not letting the said statement come in the way of deciding the matter on merits, despite it being unconscionable and shockingly brazen”

-Supreme Court expressed strong disapproval of the conduct of a litigant by which he dropped the names of persons holding high offices, including a Union Minister.

“The scope of the Enemy Property Act, as amended, vis a vis the proceedings for eviction was already dealt with by the learned Rent Controller, though not touched upon by the High Court. Further, the attempt of the respondent to implead himself in a pending case before the High Court of Delhi on a challenge made to the notices passed under the Amended Act got miserably failed with an observation by the High Court that it smacked of mala fides. We may further note, notwithstanding the earlier conclusion by way of a report dated 04.11.2015 wherein the Assistant Custodian of Enemy Property under the Enemy Property Act has observed that the predecessors of the appellant are non-evacuees and that the properties owned by them by no stretch of imagination can be termed as enemy property, there is another action initiated on which we don’t wish to express any view. The decision of the High Court rejecting the respondent’s impleadment was not only confirmed by the dismissal of the intra-court appeal, but also that of the rejection of the special leave petition by this Court. On fact, the proceedings initiated under the Enemy Property Act, as amended, are also stayed by the High Court having considered the report dated 04.11.2015, by a reasoned order”

-the order reads.

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