A Two Judge Bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Justice Ajay Rastogi and Justice Abhay S. Oka has passed a Judgment dated 28-01-2022 in the matter of Subhash Chander and Ors. versus M/s Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd. (BPCL) & Anr. and upheld the High Court Judgment dated 08-07-2019 holding that the Civil Court does not have jurisdiction to try a suit for possession of subject property, when an alternate remedy is available with Appellants to initiate proceedings for eviction of Respondents from the Suit Property under the Haryana (Control of Rent and Eviction) Act, 1973.
In this case, one, Late Shri Vinod Kumar owned a plot of Land admeasuring 10,000 Sq. Feet in Kaithal, Haryana bearing Municipal No. 657/10 (Property). The said Property was given on lease to M/s Bumrah Shell Oil Storage Distributing Company Ltd. for a fixed period of 20 years at Rs. 35 per month, vide Lease Deed dated 04-06-1958, w.e.f 01-04-1958. Thus, the Lease was valid till 01-04-1978. As per Clause 10 of the said Lease Deed, the Lease may be renewed once for another 20 years, i.e. till 01-04-1998.
Prior to the expiry of the first 20 years Lease Period, the Central Government enacted the Burmah Shell (Acquisition of Undertakings) Act, 1976, whereby, it took over the rights of the Lessee and transferred the same to M/s Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd (BPCL) in exercise of Section 5 (2) read with Section 7 (3) of the Burmah Shell (Acquisition of Undertakings) Act, 1976. Thereafter, the Respondents renewed the Lease for another 20 years.
5. Central Government to be lessor or tenant under certain circumstances.
(1) Where any property is held in India by Burmah Shell under any lease or under any right of tenancy, the Central Government shall, on and from the appointed day, be deemed to have become the lessee or tenant, as the case may be, in respect of such property as if the lease or tenancy in relation to such property had been granted to the Central Government, and thereupon all the rights under such lease or tenancy shall be deemed to have been transferred to, and vested in, the Central Government.
(2) On the expiry of the term of any lease or tenancy referred to in sub- section (1), such lease or tenancy shall, if so desired by the Central Government, be renewed on the same terms and conditions on which the lease or tenancy was held by Burmah Shell immediately before the appointed day.
In 1998, Late Shri Vinod Kumar’s predecessors-in-interest, i.e. the Appellants herein served a Legal Notice dated 30-01-1998 upon the Respondents for termination of tenancy / lease and vacation of premises, on the grounds that (a) the Appellants needed the Property for expansion of their business and (b) the Respondent No. 1 sub-let the Property to Respondent No. 2 without the consent of the Appellants.
As the Respondents did not vacate the premises of the Property, the Appellants filed a Civil Suit for Possession of the Property on 07-08-1998. The Respondents objected to filing of the Civil Suit on the grounds that (a) the Civil Court did not have jurisdiction to try the Suit, as the Haryana (Control of Rent and Eviction) Act, 1973 (the Haryana Act) is applicable to the Suit Property and (b) the disputes between landlord and tenant should be adjudicated as per the Haryana Act.
The Trial Court passed a Judgment dated 13-03-2002 and held that the Respondents were in unauthorised possession of the Suit Property and despite service of Notice under Section 106 of the Transfer of Property Act 1882, the Respondents did not vacate the possession of the Property. Hence, the Appellants are entitled to restoration of possession of the Property.
Aggrieved, the Respondents challenged the Trial Court Judgment dated 13-03-2002 before the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal set aside the Trial Court Judgment dated 13-03-2002, vide Judgment dated 28-03-2006 on the ground that the Civil Court did not have jurisdiction to try and entertain the Suit and that the Respondents can be evicted only in accordance with the provisions of the Haryana Act.
Aggrieved, the Appellants challenged the Court of Appeal Judgment dated 28-03-2006 in a Second Appeal before the High Court. The High Court passed a Judgment dated 08-07-2019 and upheld the Court of Appeal Judgment.
Aggrieved, the Appellants challenged the High Court Judgment dated 08-07-2019 before the Supreme Court. The Apex Court passed a Judgment dated 28-01-2022 and made the following observations in this case pertaining to the issue whether Civil Court jurisdiction is barred in this case and whether Eviction Petition would lie before the Rent Controller under the Haryana Act:
1) That upon enactment of the Burmah Shell (Acquisition of Undertakings) Act, 1976, the pre-existing right, title, interest of Burmah Shell Company stood transferred and vested in the Central Government, i.e. Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd. and by legal fiction, BPCL stepped into the shoes of Burmah Shell Company and became the Lessee of the Subject Property in the Lease Deed dated 04-06-1958.
2) That the Haryana (Control of Rent and Eviction) Act, 1973 is a complete enactment in itself determining the rights of a tenant / landlord, thereby impliedly excluding the other laws on the said subject matter.
Thus, based on the aforesaid grounds, the Supreme Court upheld the High Court Judgment dated 08-07-2019 and reiterated that the Civil Court jurisdiction is impliedly barred by the provisions of the Haryana (Control of Rent and Eviction) Act, 1973. As a result, the Appeal was dismissed.
The law is very clear that if there is a special legislation and a general legislation, the special legislation shall prevail. The idea behind this thumb rule is to ensure that special legislations that take care of a particular subject matter should be decided as per the said specialised law. This would create precedents in that particular subject ensuring uniformity, consistency and evolvement of the specialised law. The Supreme Court upholding this position is in keeping with its earlier judgments that say when there is a general law and a special law, the special law shall prevail.
Senior Legal Associate
The Indian Lawyer
Sushila Ram Varma
The Indian Lawyer