Gautam Bose, a tenant in Salt Lake, filed a petition with the rent controller of the township, the sub-divisional officer (SDO), that he be allowed to deposit his rent with the controller instead of his landlord. His plea was rejected because the house-owner is only the lessee of the land, and not the owner. As per the rules, the plots in Salt Lake have been given out on lease for 999 years.
Tarun Kumar Chowdhury of Salt Lake’s BF block asked the SDO to fix his rent. His plea, too, was turned down, for the same reason. According to sources, at least 15 such pleas have been rejected on the same grounds since February 2002.
Frustrated by the stalemate, the Bidhannagar House-Owners’ Association has decided to move the high court. “We will file a public interest litigation soon to get a clear verdict on why disputes between landlords and tenants cannot be resolved at the rent controller’s level,” Association president B.P. Saha said.
House-owners claim they are victims of a ‘dual policy’ of the authorities. “The rent received from the tenants is taken into consideration for the annual valuation of property tax, which increases significantly due to the rent. But when it comes to solving disputes, the authorities are washing their hands off the issue, citing rules,” an Association officer said.
Saha added that many tenants are not paying rent on the grounds that the house owners are lease-holders and not the original owners of the plot. “Under the new law for depositing rent with the rent controller’s office, the permission of the controller and landlord are needed. But, with the authorities not accepting the rent, many tenants cannot pay. The house-owners are at the receiving end.”
In his order in both the cases cited, rent controller and SDO Baidyanath Mondal said: “Section I of the West Bengal Premises Tenancy Act says it shall not apply to any premises belonging to the government. Premises belonging to the government include those held under a lease agreement. As the premises in question are situated on land leased out by the government, the landlord cannot be construed to be the absolute and unencumbered owner.”
SDO Mondal added that as rent controller of Salt Lake, he was bound by the law. “The order is very clear. The rent controller must act according to the new tenancy Act,” he said.
This has created a stir among house-owners in Salt Lake. “By the new Act, we cannot approach a civil court. So, there is no option but to move the high court, though it is expensive and may take a long time to resolve,” said Kumar Shankar Sengupta, Association executive committee member.