SC refuses to strike down provision relating to an NRI’s right to claim eviction under the East Punjab Urban Rent Restriction Act, 1949

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of Ranjan Gogoi, CJ and L. Nageswara Rao and Sanjiv Khanna, JJ has refused to hold  Section 13-B of the East Punjab Urban Rent Restriction Act, 1949 (Rent Act) merely because it grants a right to claim eviction for bona fide need by summary procedure to a certain group of landlords, that is, Non-Resident Indians subject to and on the satisfaction of statutory conditions which incorporate a check on frivolous evictions.

The Court said that the plea that Section 13-B ought to be struck down on the ground that similar rights can be extended to other landlords was without substance, as

“It rests with the legislature to make laws and extend it to other similarly situated persons. The rent act(s) invariably give similar rights by a controlled mechanism and alluded riders to various other classes/groups of landlords, namely, government servants, members of armed forces, the retired or soon to retire employees of the Central and the State Governments, widows, etc.”

The Court, further, explained that the right of Non-Resident Indians to initiate eviction under the summary procedure provided in Section 18-A of the Rent Act is not an unfettered and absolute right. It is subject to satisfaction of various pre-requisites and imperatives that ensure and check potential abuse by resorting to a short-circuit procedure. The requirement should arise from a genuine need of the Non-Resident Indian landlord or his dependent. Such landlord should be an owner for five years preceding the date of filing of the eviction petition. There is a cap on permitting the use of the provision which is available only once in a lifetime and only in respect of one building. There are restrictions and constraints on the re-sale and re-letting and a further requirement to possess the property for a continuous period of three months after the possession is taken.

It was, hence, noticed that the pre-conditions and post possession restrictions suggest that Section 13-B serves a specific policy objective to ensure the right of Non-Resident Indians to occupy their property in the Union Territory of Chandigarh and the State of Punjab as the case may be, after “returning” to their country. This right has to be balanced with the right of the tenants to establish their case on merits by disproving the genuine requirement of the Non-Resident Indians.

“Section 13-B cannot, therefore, be treated as an arbitrary classification that infringes and violates Article 14 of the Constitution.”

[Ram Krishan Grover v. Union of India, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1469, decided on 14.11.2019]

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