Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of Dr. AK Sikri, Ashok Bhushan and SA Nazeer, JJ decided the important question on the meaning, interpretation and applicability of Section 6 of the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1971 (PP Act),

“Section 6 of the PP Act applies, inter alia, to the persons who keep their goods in the public premises whether they are tenants/licensees, sub­tenants or any other parties. The Estate Officer, under Section 6 of the PP Act, is entitled to sell the goods even of a stranger, found in/on the premises under unauthorized occupation.”

The Court was hearing the appeal against the judgment of Calcutta High Court, wherein it was held that Sections 59 and 61 of the Major Port Trusts Act, 1963 (MPT Act) vis­a­vis Sections 5 and 6 of the PP Act make it clear that if any goods are found to be lying on the land of the Port Trust, and for such land any rent is due or payable, the Port Trust has not only the lien over the goods, but also the right to sell those goods so as to appropriate the sale proceedings towards the rental dues.

The Court, however, agreed with the submission of the Port Trust that even if the goods belonging to the third parties are found lying on the premises after an order of eviction passed under Section 5, it was entitled to sell the goods and deduct from the sale proceeds any amount due to the Port Trust on account of arrears of rent or damages, etc and that the balance of the sale proceeds shall be paid to such person or persons, as may appear to the Estate Officer, to be entitled for the same.

Sections 5 and 6 of the PP Act explained:

The expression ‘spread on any public premises’, contained in sub­section (1)(b) of Section 5A in the context also means ‘lying on any premises’. Sub­section (3) of Section 5A authorizes the Estate Officer to remove any goods lying on any public premises after an order of eviction has been made under Section 5 of the Act. It is immaterial whether the said goods belong to the erstwhile tenant/licensee or to any other party. Sub­section (1A) of Section 6 authorises the Estate Officer to dispose of such goods/materials, etc. after giving fourteen days’ notice to the persons owning such   goods and other procedure prescribed therein. It is not necessary that the persons owning the goods lying on the premises should be erstwhile tenants/licensees. It is also not necessary that there should be a privity of contract between the Port Trust and the third party to whom such goods and materials belong for disposing of the property by the Estate Officer under Section 6.

The Court, hence, said:

“Section 6 of the PP Act has been enacted with obvious purpose of enabling statutory authorities to take all consequential steps after receiving possession of public premises and for recovery of dues, etc. Hence, the said provision ought not to be interpreted in a way which defeats the very purpose of its enactment. Section 6 of the PP Act must be read independent of, and not dependant on, Sections 59 and 61 of the MPT Act.”

[Board of Trustees for the Port of Kolkata v. APL (India) Pvt. Ltd., 2019 SCC OnLine SC 249, decided on 21.02.2019]

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