limitation under section 14(3) of rajasthan premises (control of rent and eviction) act

Supreme Court: In the case where a tenant had been occupying a premises for over 38 years, and the landlord sought to evict him on the ground that the suit had been defectively instituted within five years of the tenancy as per Section 14(3) of the Rajasthan Premises (Control of Rent and Eviction) Act, 1950, the bench of Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Ahsanuddin Amanullah, JJ has held that the objective of Section 14(3) of the Act, being the safeguarding of the tenant for five years, was subserved by the proceedings going on for the requisite period of time and beyond it within which the tenant could not have been evicted.

Provision in question

“14. Restriction on eviction:- (3) Notwithstanding anything contained in any law or contract, no suit for eviction from the premises let out for commercial or business purposes shall lie against a tenant on the ground set forth in clause (h) of sub-section (1) of section 13 before the expiry of five years from the date the premises were let out to the tenant.”

Background of the Case

The landlord had filed a suit for eviction in 1985, but it was dismissed in 2002 because it was not filed in accordance with Section 14(3) of the said Act as the Trial Court found that the premises were leased only on 08.06.1982 by the predecessor in interest of the landlord.

The landlord thereafter succeeded in the first appeal before the Additional District Judge, Jaipur, in terms of the judgment dated 18.03.2004. This was based on a stated admission of the tenant that he had initially leased the shop from one Udai Lal in 1958 and, thus, the suit could not be said to be hit by the restriction under Section 14(3) of the said Act. The Court disagreed with the tenant’s claim that the premises had been leased on 08.06.1982, finding that the original lease deed dated 08.06.1982 had not even been adduced before the trial court.

Thereafter, the matter travelled to the Rajasthan High Court and upon views on the interpretation of Section 14(3) of the said Act by the High Court, the Single Bench referred the issue to the Division Bench. The Division Bench agreed with the former of the following divergent views:

  • First view: Section 14(3) of the said Act created a complete prohibition on filing of a suit within five years of the tenancy.

  • Second view: Irregularity of a petition filed within five years of tenancy would get cured by the decree of eviction being made after the expiry of such period.

Submissions before the Supreme Court

When the matter came before the Supreme Court, the following submissions were made:

  • Landlord argued that a literal interpretation of Section 14(3) of the said Act would lead to absurdity. Instead, a purposive interpretation of the rule should be applied. The intent behind Section 14(3) of the said Act is to grant protection to the tenant against eviction for five years. However, a literal interpretation of the rule in the present case would amount to granting protection to the tenant after 38 years of filing of the suit in 1985.

  • Tenant argued that the word ‘lie’ used in Section 14(3) of the said Act had not been defined. The dictionary meaning of the expression would be ‘For an action, claim appeal etc. to subsist; be maintainable or admissible’. Since the suit itself was not maintainable, no decree can be passed. It was also urged that if the intention of the legislature was that the eviction decree can be passed after expiry of five years, then Section 14(3) of the said Act would have been worded differently.

Supreme Court’s Analysis

Going into the objective of the provision, the Court observed that it is for the protection of a tenant. The objective is that from the date a tenant acquires a right, he must have a right to continue in the premises for a period of five years, subject to his fulfillment of the terms and conditions of the lease.

The Court observed that,

“Whether the expression used is ‘shall lie’ or ‘be entertained’ would really make no difference. The objective is to create an impediment in the institution and trial of the suit for a period specified under the said Act.”

Considering the facts of the Case, the Court noted that the spirit of protection is fulfilled with the passage of the prescribed time period, and the filing of a fresh suit would lead to unnecessary multiplicity of litigation. The court also noted that a subsequent development had taken place in the form of the abrogation of the said Act in the year 2001, with a new statute coming into force, i.e. The Rajasthan Rent Control Act, 2001, which does not create any similar bar.

In the case at hand, while the suit may have been defectively instituted within five years of the tenancy, more than 38 years have elapsed since the suit was filed. Hence, this passage of time beyond the period of five years would wash away the initial impediment against the suit.

Rejecting the plea of the tenant that the landlord should be asked to file a fresh suit, the Court observed that the confidence of the tenant stems from the fact that “if the tenant has already been able to prolong the proceedings for 38 years, a similar scenario would again follow”.

The Court, hence, observed that,

“To say that the landlord should now, once again, restart the proceedings because the initial period of five years had not elapsed, even as now 38 years have elapsed, would be a travesty of justice.”

While the conventional approach may require the Court to remit the matter to the single Judge of the High Court to be considered on merits, the Court observed that as so much time has passed, it would be a mockery of justice to make the parties to go through another round in the second appeal and that “a quietus should be put to this prolonged dispute spanning 38 years, on something as simple as tenancy issue and as to when the proceedings commenced”.

Hence, using its extraordinary power under Article 142 of the Constitution of India to do absolute justice inter se the parties, the Court affirmed the decree of eviction passed by the first appellate court dated 18.3.2004 and directed the tenant to hand over vacant and physical possession of the tenanted premises on or before 30.09.2023, and to call upon the tenant to file an undertaking in order to avail of the benefit for further occupation till 30.9.2023 within two weeks.

The impugned judgment of the Division Bench of the High Court was, hence, set aside.

[Ravi Khandelwal v. Taluka Stores, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 812, decided on 11.07.2023]

Judgment authored by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul

Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul — A torch bearer of Freedom of Speech and Expression

Advocates who appeared in this case :

For Petitioner(s) Mr. Anuj Bhandari, AOR Mrs. Disha Bhandari, Adv.;

For respondents(s) Mr. Sushil Kumar Jain, Sr. Adv. Mr. Puneet Jain, Adv. Ms. Christi Jain, Adv. Mr. Umang Mehta, Adv. Mr. Yogit Kamat, Adv. Ms. Shruti Singh, Adv. Mr. Mann Arora, Adv. Ms. Akriti Sharma, Adv. Ms. Pratibha Jain, AOR.

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