New Delhi, March 2: Buyers of unauthorised flats cannot escape liability if they already knew that the apartment had been built without sanction, the Supreme Court has ruled.
Worried at large-scale illegal constructions, the bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and S.J. Mukhopadhyaya directed courts and administrations not to pass any orders to regularise unauthorised constructions from now on.
“We would like to reiterate that no authority administering municipal laws and other similar laws can encourage violation of the sanctioned plan,” the judgment said.
“The courts are also expected to refrain from exercising equitable jurisdiction for regularisation of illegal and unauthorised constructions, else it would encourage violators of planning laws and destroy the very idea and concept of planned development of urban as well as rural areas.”
The apex court passed the judgment while dismissing a batch of appeals filed by various housing societies from Mumbai. The petitioners had challenged the municipal corporation’s decision to demolish about 200 flats at Worli on the ground that they were built in violation of the sanctioned plan.
As for the flat owners whose apartments would now be pulled down, the court said: “The only remedy available to them is to sue the lessee and the developer/builder for return of the money and/or for damages.... They cannot seek a direction for regularisation of the illegal and unauthorised construction made by the developers/builders.”
The promoters had initially obtained permission in February 1983 for construction of nine six-storey buildings. However, they later submitted a revised plan adding 10 to 18 further floors to each building. The planning authority rejected this in September 1984.
Yet, the same year, the promoters and the buyers entered into a purchase agreement though both sides were fully aware of the rejection of the revised plan.
Subsequently, the civic body decided to demolish the illegal constructions and the matter went to a civil court, which gave permission for the demolition.
Hearing an appeal filed by the builders and buyers, Bombay High Court in 2010 agreed with the trial court that there was deliberate violation of the sanctioned plan and that the buyers had entered into the purchase agreement fully aware of its illegality.
The builders and buyers then moved the apex court seeking a stay on the demolition. But the court rejected their plea.
It said the records showed that even before construction began, some of the developers and builders had struck agreements with the prospective buyers.
“The argument that the flat buyers should not be penalised for the illegality committed by the lessee and the developers/builders... sounds attractive in the first blush but on a closer scrutiny, we do not find any merit in the same,” the court said.
“Admittedly, the flat buyers... were aware... that the revised plans submitted by the architect had not been approved by the planning authority, and the developers/builders had foretold them about the consequence of rejection of the revised plans.
“Therefore, there is no escape from the conclusion that the flat buyers had consciously occupied the flats illegally constructed by the developers/builders.”
The court also noted that in the past five decades, various municipal laws for planned development had been violated with impunity in all cities, big or small. It said that those entrusted with the task of ensuring implementation of master plans, etc, had failed to perform their duties.
“It is highly regrettable that this is so despite the fact that this court has, keeping in view the imperatives of preserving the ecology and environment of the area and protecting the rights of the citizens, repeatedly cautioned the concerned authorities against arbitrary regularisation of illegal constructions by way of compounding and otherwise,” the court said.