SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS HIGH COURT’S EXERCISE OF DISCRETIONARY POWERS UNDER ARTICLE 227 OF CONSTITUTION TO HOLD TENANT LIABLE TO PAY RENT AS PER ORDERS OF LOWER COURT
A Two Bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Justice Krishna Murari and Justice Ahsanuddin Amanullah passed a Judgment dated 11.05.2023 in a recent case of K. Chinnammal (Dead) Thr. Lrs. vs L. R. Eknath & Anr Civil Appeal No. 3626 of 2023 and observed that a High Court while exercising power and jurisdiction under Article 227 of the Constitution of India (Power of superintendence over all courts by the High Court), (i) may set aside / ignore the findings of facts of a lower court / tribunal, in the event there is no evidence to justify such findings; however, (ii) if the findings of the lower court / tribunal are based on sufficient evidence, the High Court may allow such findings.
1) In the present case, one L.R. Eknath, the Respondent-Landlord, filed a Petition for Recovery of Lease Rent in respect of few bags of paddy for the period of 2009 to 2014 in Case No. T.C.T.P. No.5 of 2015 on 08.12.2014 filed against one, Chinnammal, the Appellant-Cultivating Tenant herein before the Ld. Special Deputy Collector, Revenue Court at Madurai ( Collector).
2) Thereafter, Ld. Collector passed an Order dated 04.02.2019 in A. No. 29 of 2015 in T.C.T.P. No. 5 of 2015 against the Appellant-Tenant and directed him to deposit the Lease Rent in respect of 31.5 bags of paddy or the equivalent amount in favour of the Respondent-Landlord within 2 months of the receipt of the said Order, failing which an eviction proceeding would be initiated against the Appellant-Tenant.
3) The Appellant-Tenant received Ld. Collector’s Order dated 04.02.2019, on 10.10.2020 and thereafter, issued a Legal Notice on 06.11.2020 to the Respondent-Landlord, thereby, inviting all his legal heirs to receive the Lease Rent.
4) Thereafter, the Respondent-Landlord replied to the aforesaid Legal Notice on 11.11.2020, stating that the Appellant-Tenant shall come with all his five legal heirs to pay the Lease Rent in respect of 31.5 bags of paddy in accordance with the Ld. Collector’s Order dated 04.02.2019.
5) However, the Appellant-Tenant failed to deposit the arrears of Lease Rent and further, filed a Memo before the Ld. Collector on 22.02.2021, thereby stating that the Tenant has deposited Rs. 28,563/- towards the arrears of Rent on 18.02.2021, in the State Bank of India, in the account of the Treasury of the Ld. Collector.
6) Thereafter the Respondent – Landlord filed A. No. 15 of 2021 in T.C.T.P. No. 5 of 2015 before the Ld. Collector, Revenue Court, Madurai seeking eviction of the Appellant -Tenant for not complying with the Ld. Collector’s Order dated 04.02.2019 i.e. to pay the Lease Rent in respect of 31.5 bags of paddy.
7) Thereafter, the Ld. Collector passed a Final Order dated 03.12.2021, in favour of the Respondent- Landlord and directed for eviction of the Appellant- Tenant.
8) Aggrieved by the Ld. Collector’s Final Order dated 03.12.2021, the Appellant -Tenant filed a Civil Revision Petition bearing CRP (NPD) No. 271 of 2022 before the High Court of Tamil Nadu at Madurai seeking setting aside of the said Final Order.
9) The Division Bench of the High Court passed an Order dated 25.04.2022 and dismissed the Petition filed by the Appellant -Tenant.
Supreme Court observations and Analysis
Aggrieved by the High Court Order dated 25.04.2022, the Appellant-Tenant filed Civil Appeal No. 3626 of 2023 before the Supreme Court. The Apex Court passed a Judgment dated 11.05.2023 and made the following observations.
i) That the act of issuing Legal Notice to the Respondent- Landlord asking the latter to come and collect the Lease Rent would not ipso facto imply compliance of the Ld. Collector’s Order dated 04.02.2019 i.e. to pay Rent in respect of 31.5 bags of paddy to the Landlord.
ii) That the Appellant -Tenant took the defense of (a) COVID-19 Pandemic, (b) Section 3 of the Tamil Nadu Cultivating Tenant Act 1955 (Landlords not to evict cultivating Tenants) which does not provide for eviction of tenant after payment of arrears of rent and (c) Section 4 of Tamil Nadu Cultivating Tenant Act 1955 (Right to restoration of possession) that provides for restoration of possession of land on payment of arrears of rent.
iii) That the Supreme Court in G Ponniah Thevar v Nellayam Perumal Pillai, (1977) 1 SCC 500 observed that statutory protection against eviction of tenant cannot be availed, if the payment of rent is due.
iv) The Apex Court observed as follows: in Suo Motu Writ Petition (C) No. 3 of 2020 [(2020) 19 SCC 10] and S Kasi v State, (2021) 12 SCC 1,
“19. The limitation for filing petitions/ applications/ suits/ appeals/ all other proceedings was extended to obviate lawyers/litigants to come physically to file such proceedings in respective courts/tribunals. The order was passed to protect the litigants/lawyers whose petitions/ applications/ suits/ appeals/ all other proceedings would become timebarred they being not able to physically come to file such proceedings. The order was for the benefit of the litigants who have to take remedy in law as per the applicable statute for a right. The law of limitation bars the remedy but not the right. When this Court passed the above order for extending the limitation for filing petitions/ applications/ suits/ appeals /all other proceedings, the order was for the benefit of those who have to take remedy, whose remedy may be barred by time because they were unable to come physically to file such proceedings. …”
v) The Supreme Court observed as follows, the powers of the High Court under Article 227 of the Constitution as reiterated in Estralla Rubber v Dass Estate (P) Ltd., (2001) 8 SCC 97, and Garment Craft v Prakash Chand Goel, (2022) 4 SCC 181:
“6. The scope and ambit of exercise of power and jurisdiction by a High Court under Article 227 of the Constitution of India is examined and explained in a number of decisions of this Court. The exercise of power under this Article involves a duty on the High Court to keep inferior courts and tribunals within the bounds of their authority and to see that they do the duty expected or required of them in a legal manner. The High Court is not vested with any unlimited prerogative to correct all kinds of hardship or wrong decisions made within the limits of the jurisdiction of the subordinate courts or tribunals. Exercise of this power and interfering with the orders of the courts or tribunals is restricted to cases of serious dereliction of duty and flagrant violation of fundamental principles of law or justice, where if the High Court does not interfere, a grave injustice remains uncorrected. It is also well settled that the High Court while acting under this Article cannot exercise its power as an appellate court or substitute its own judgment in place of that of the subordinate court to correct an error, which is not apparent on the face of the record. The High Court can set aside or ignore the findings of facts of an inferior court or tribunal, if there is no evidence at all to justify or the finding is so perverse, that no reasonable person can possibly come to such a conclusion, which the court or tribunal has come to.
vi) Applying the aforesaid principles of law to the present facts, the Bench held that the Appellant- Tenant defaulted in payment / deposit of Lease Rent for the years 2009 to 2014 and thereby, failed to comply with the Orders of the Ld. Collector and hence, he cannot take defense (a) of COVID-19 Pandemic which occurred in 2020-21 i.e. much later to the said default and (b) under the provisions of the Tamil Nadu Cultivating Tenant Act 1955, as the payment of Lease Rent was due.
Thus, based on the above observations, the Supreme Court held that the High Court rightly exercised its discretionary powers under Article 227 of the Constitution, to hold the Appellant-Tenant liable to pay Lease Rent in accordance with the Ld. Collector’s Orders dated 04.02.2019 and 03.12.2021. As a result, the Appeal filed by the Appellant-Tenant was dismissed and the High Court’s Order dated 25.04.2022 was upheld.
The Indian Lawyer
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