A Calcutta High Court ruling in a property battle between a public sector undertaking (PSU) and its tenant, has suddenly — and radically — altered the balance of power between such property-owning units and their occupants. This is poised to have far-reaching implications in a city with PSU property worth several hundred crores at prime locations.
It started off as just another legal battle for BSNL in its bid to clear out a tenant from a building at Esplanade. The legal battle lasted more than 21 years and, till the end, looked like going the way of the owner of the property. But, in a sudden twist, provided by a gazette notification inserted a few months ago, the Union communications ministry subsidiary finds itself on the losing side.
Legal opinion, however, is united in saying that BSNL — and all other Central and state government undertakings, like LIC — have lost much more than just two rooms on the second floor of a building nestled between Roxy cinema and Peerless Inn.
The case sets a precedent, and together with the gazette notification directing all PSUs to “immediately review” all pending cases and “withdraw eviction proceedings against genuine tenants”, it is practically impossible for a PSU to evict a tenant, they feel.
The legal imbroglio started in 1982 when BSNL, then still not a separate entity within the ministry of communications, issued eviction notices to some tenants of Raniganj Coal House, at 3A, Chowringhee Place.
The building originally belonged to the Raniganj Coal Mines but became a Central government property after all mines were nationalised in 1972. The tenants formed an association after receiving the eviction notices and decided that one of the evicted tenants, K.K. Nayyar, would take the battle to court.
A petition challenging the eviction notice was filed in the city civil court, where it was decided, in 1985, that the government wing was right in asking its tenants to leave. Nayyar filed an appeal with Calcutta High Court, challenging the decision of the lower court. The case dragged on for 18 years, till it was resolved a few days back.
“... this court is of the view that the writ petitioner (Nayyar is)... a tenant of the disputed premises and... should be considered so,” said the verdict, delivered by Justice P.K. Samanta.
The verdict hinged on a gazette notification issued about a year ago by the directorate of estates of the Union ministry of urban development and poverty alleviation, to “prevent arbitrary use of powers to evict genuine tenants”.
Several PSUs own real estate worth several hundred crores of rupees in the city proper, many of them lining Central Avenue and Chowringhee.
Legal opinion is united in stating that for tenants in these buildings, this verdict comes almost as a security bond.