Constitutional validity of the Punjab Religious Premises and Land (Eviction and Rent Recovery) Act, 1997 upheld

Supreme Court: Upholding the constitutional validity of the Punjab Religious Premises and Land (Eviction and Rent Recovery) Act, 1997 a bench comprising of NV Ramana, Sanjiv Khanna and Krishna Murar, JJ held that separate classification of properties of religious institutions for rent legislation will pass the test under Article 14 of the Constitution of India.

The present petition was an appeal against the Punjab and Haryana High Court judgment which had dismissed the contention that the above act created an artificial distinction and discriminated against tenants of “religious institutions”, though “religious institutions” as landlords were not a separate class. The Court noted that there are a number of central and state legislation wherein religious institutions with or without other charitable organisations had been treated as a separate and distinct class and therefore tenants coming under them also formed a separate class.

The Court referred to a couple of cases where it was held that grant of exemption to buildings belonging to charities, religious or secular institutions from rent control legislation would not offend the equal protection clause of Article 14 of the Constitution as it is a reasonable classification based on intelligible differentia and also satisfies the test of nexus as such institutions not only serve public purpose but disbursement of their income is governed by the objects for which they are created.

The Court referred to the case of  Ashoka Marketing Ltd. v. Punjab National Bank, (1990) 4 SCC 406 wherein challenge to Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1971 was rejected. The reasoning given for exclusion of property belonging to the government from the ambit of the Rent Control Act was that the government while dealing with the citizens in respect of property belonging to it would not act as a private landlord and would act in public interest. The Court held that what was being said about the Public Premises Act, 1971 would be equally applicable to legislations made by the State of Punjab in respect of East Punjab Rent Act, 1949 and the Punjab Religious Premises Act, 1997. The same reasoning would equally apply to “religious institutions” as they are meant to carry out public purpose and the legislature can proceed accordingly that the religious institutions would act in public interest for which they were established.

[Harbhajan Singh vs. State of Punjab, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1546, decided on 4.12.19]

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