Supreme Court: The 3-Judge Bench comprising of N.V. Ramana, CJ., A.S. Bopanna* and Hima Kohli, JJ., held that non-members of cooperative societies have no right to seek remedy under Section 61 of the Andhra Pradesh Cooperative Societies Act, 1964 (APCS Act).
The land in question had been allotted to the N.G.O. Cooperative Building Society Ltd. by the State for the purpose of formation of Layout and to allot sites to its members. Accordingly, the land a layout was formed and 625 members were allotted plots. The disputed plot measuring 3.2 cents was allotted to the respondent 1, one M.V. Ramana.
The grievance of the appellants was that the plot in question should not be allotted to the respondent 1 alleging that the said plot was reserved as parking area in the layout plan. The appellants were, a Welfare Association which was a part of the same layout and a couple i.e. plaintiff 4 and 5 who own shop premises in the layout which was situated opposite the plot in issue. Noticeably, the plaintiffs 4 and 5 were not members but were persons interested in purchasing the same plot that was allotted to respondent 1, ostensibly to retain the same as parking area in front of their shops on plot Nos.27, 35 and 36. The appellant along with the others had raised the dispute before the Divisional Cooperative Officer invoking Section 61 of the APCS Act.
The Divisional Cooperative Officer, on perusal of the material and evidence, noted the said plot to be a vacant commercial plot as denoted in the plan. However, on providing his own analysis, he had proceeded to term the plot in issue as a ‘parking area’ and had accordingly passed the award in favour of the plaintiffs. However, in appeal, the High Court held it against the appellants and set aside the award of the Divisional Cooperative Officer.
Though subsequently, certain parties had been deleted and the appellant who was a former President of the Society was alone prosecuting the appeals, the Bench opined that “what will have to be noted is the frame of the dispute, the parties to the dispute at the point in time when it was raised and the context in which it was done.”
The respondent 1, a member of the society who was allotted a plot in another layout formed by the N.G.O. Society, sought for an exchange of the plot. Accordingly, the earlier allotted plot was surrendered to the Society. In lieu thereof, the Society allotted the plot measuring 3.25 8 cents to respondent 1 and a sale deed was also executed and registered. The plot allotted to the defendant No.2 is located in front of the shops belonging to the plaintiffs No.4 and 5, private parties.
The Plaintiffs No.4 and 5 had earlier requested the NGO Society to allot the plot in their favour but were aggrieved when it was allotted to the respondent 1. Rejecting the explanation of the plaintiffs that they had sought to purchase the plot and retain it as a parking area, the Bench stated,
“Such an explanation cannot be accepted on face value. If in fact a plot was earmarked in the layout plan as a parking area, it is the bounden duty of the authorities concerned to maintain the same as such. It is difficult to fathom that a private individual who owns shop premises in the layout would invest money and purchase the vacant plot to retain it as a parking area for the benefit of the general public.”
Can Non-members invoke Provisions of Andhra Pradesh Cooperative Societies Act, 1964?
The APCS Act has made a provision for members of a Cooperative Society to approach the cooperative Officer designated, when there is a dispute amongst the members of a society or the member/members against the Society etc.
Observing that the plaintiffs apart from being non-members, who could not have invoked the provisions of the APCS Act, were also rival claimants and competitors for allotment of the same plot, the Bench held that the members i.e. former office bearers had made a common case with the non-members and in furtherance of the same, the plaintiffs had sought for a declaratory relief to declare the registered sale deed as null and void which is impermissible under the Act. Hence, keeping in perspective the subject matter, the relief sought and the parties involved, the Bench opined that the High Court was justified in rejecting the relief claimed by the appellants.
Whether the Plot was reserved for Parking Area?
Holding that grant of relief would have arisen only if there was definite material to indicate that the plot in question was reserved as a parking area in the layout plan, the Bench observed that there was no definite material to delineate from the layout plan that it was a parking area rather it had been shown as commercial plot/vacant plot. The Bench observed,
“Keeping in view the location of the property owned by the plaintiffs No.4 and 5, the original authority had deemed it fit to keep the disputed plot vacant for being maintained as a parking area which is only an assumption based on the own analogy of the Divisional Cooperative Officer and amounts to modifying the approved layout plan.
The consideration in that regard made by the original authority, based on the said assumption was:
“b) For visitors coming to the shopping complex by bicycles, scooters, or cars there must be some space for parking the vehicles, particularly because it is obviously a commercial area. Vacant site viewed in the proper context and from a correct perspective means necessarily a parking place because parking place is a ‘must’ in a commercial area.”
In order to render a quietus to the issue, the Bench sought a report from the District Judge, Kadapa on the whole conspectus of the matter, which nowhere indicated that the plot in question was reserved or earmarked as a parking area. On the other hand, it had been referred to as the area earmarked for commercial purpose.
In the light of the above and considering the fact that the allotment being of the year 2000, construction had also been raised, more than two decades had elapsed by now, hence any intervention or action at this juncture would not be justified, the Bench dismissed the instant appeals. [Velagacharla Jayaram Reddy v. M. Venkata Ramana, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 34, decided on 11-01-2022]
*Judgment by: Justice A.S. Bopanna
For the Appellants: B. Narayana Reddy, Senior Advocate
For the Respondent 1: Annam D.N. Rao, Advocate
For Respondent 5: K. Ravindra Kumar, Senior Advocate
Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this report together