Supreme Court: Deciding the ambit of the bar of jurisdiction under Section 25 of the Punjab Security of Land Tenures Act, 1953 and whether the bar will operate, even in a situation, where the landlord-tenant relationship is disputed in a proceeding under Section 14A of the Act, the bench of KM Joseph* and S. Ravindra Bhat, JJ had held that the validity of the orders under Section 14A is open to scrutiny in a Civil Court, in a situation, when the tenant denies and disputes the case of the landlord that there is a landlord-tenant relationship. However,

“… a mere plea by the tenant, should not lead, without anything more, to render the Authorities helpless and bereft of power to order eviction. In a situation, where, the Authority finds the plea of the tenant to be completely frivolous and mere attempt at blocking the proceedings, the validity enacted under Section 25, cannot be diluted. The position must be understood as that the power to decide, cannot be assigned to the Authorities under the Act, of the existence of the landlord-tenant relationship.”

It was noticed that the words used in Section 25 of the Act, as already noticed, is that except in accordance with the provisions of the Act, the validity of any proceeding or Order, taken or made under the Act, cannot be questioned in any Court or before any other Authority.

The Court explained that the expression “validity of the decision or the Order” in Section 25 of the Act, would not include a case where, despite a dispute projected, that there was no landlord-tenant relationship, the Authority decides the said issue in the course of the Order of Eviction, under Section 14A, after brushing aside the tenant’s objection relating to his position, viz., that he is not a tenant. In such a situation, the validity is tied-up with the fundamental aspect of absence of power of the Authority to decide on the question of landlord-tenant relationship.

Explaining the true effect of Section 10 (2) and (3) read with Section 14A, the Court said that an application for ejectment of a tenant is to be made before the Assistant Collector under Section 14A. Such an application is to be decided after giving notice and it is to be decided summarily. Since the exclusive power to decide the application to evict the tenant has been conferred on the Assistant Collector, the law giver has further contemplated that after receipt of such an application by the Assistant Collector no other court or authority is to proceed with ‘any case relating to the same matter’ upon being informed by the Assistant Collector of the receipt of the application under Section 14A. What is more such proceeding is to be lapse after the determination of the dispute by the Assistant Collector. The law giver no doubt does contemplate an exclusive and expeditious remedy for the landlord to seek eviction brooking no over lapping of jurisdiction by exercise of power by any other court or authority on a parallel basis. However, this provision cannot mean that when the very existence landlord-tenant relationship is brought under a cloud by the tenant raising a dispute then the very premise on which the exclusive jurisdiction conferred on the Assistant Collector is not overturned.

“… the law giver has proceeded on the basis that the Assistant Collector is clothed with the power to decide a matter relating to eviction in a summary fashion. This would be inconsistent with scenario where the very existence of the landlord-tenant relationship is disputed. The law giver in other words proceeds on an assumption that the application made by the landlord is against a person who is indeed the tenant.”

It was further noticed that an Order passed under Section 14A, could be challenged by way of an Appeal, Review and Revision, as provided in the Tenancy Act, adverted to in Section 24 of the Act. Section 14A of the Act, provides for the eviction of a tenant notwithstanding anything contained in any other law. Therefore, apart from the fact that it became an exhaustive catalogue of circumstances, entitling the landlord to launch proceedings for eviction and also further designating the Statutory Authority, before which, it could be filed, it provided for a bar to challenge the validity of the orders passed, except by way of the remedies provided under the Tenancy Act.

“There would not be any justification for revisiting the principle laid down that when the relationship between landlord and tenant is contested, the Civil Court continue to have the jurisdiction despite the bar under Section 25 of the Act.”

The Court, hence, found no reason to hold that the validity of the Order passed by the Assistant Collector, as may be affirmed in Appeal, Review or Revision, cannot be questioned in a Civil Court, if the expression “validity” is conflated with legality. If an Order is illegal, it would be invalid.

[Assa Singh v. Shanti Prasad, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1064, decided on 17.11.2021]

*Judgment by: Justice KM Joseph

Know Thy Judge| Justice K.M. Joseph

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