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State act primacy in tenant eviction: SC

New Delhi, March 11: Landlords can evict tenants under a Bengal act even if there is an agreement under the central arbitration legislation, the Supreme Court has ruled.

A bench of Justices A.K. Patnaik and Y. Gopala Gowda recently passed the judgment while allowing the appeal filed by a landlord in Salt Lake challenging a Calcutta High Court ruling that had taken the view that the arbitration agreement in the rent deed would prevail over the West Bengal Premises Tenancy Act, 1997.

Ranjit Kumar Bose had filed an eviction suit in a Barasat court in 2008 against his tenant, Ananya Chowdhury, who had a 600sqft shop at Salt Lake’s HA block.

The tenant had filed a counter-plea in the court of the civil judge (senior division), at Barasat, North 24-Parganas, requesting that the matter be referred to an arbitrator under the central Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, as the tenancy agreement contained an arbitration agreement.

The civil judge dismissed the plea, following which Chowdhury appealed in Calcutta High Court.

On April 16, 2010, the high court directed that the dispute be referred to arbitrators to be appointed by the landlord and the tenant according to the arbitration agreement.

Landlord Bose then appealed in the Supreme Court.

Interpreting the state legislation, Justice Patnaik said in his order: “It is, thus, clear that Section 6 of the Tenancy Act overrides a contract between the landlord and the tenant and provides that only the civil judge having jurisdiction can order or decree for recovery of possession only in a suit to be filed by the landlord.”

Section 6 of the West Bengal Premises Tenancy Act, which deals with protection of tenants from eviction, mentions that “notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in any other law for the time being in force or in any contract”, no order or decree for the recovery of the possession of any premises shall be made by the civil judge “having jurisdiction in favour of the landlord against the tenant….”

In this case, the apex court bench said it was true that there was an arbitration agreement under Clause 15 of the tenancy agreement, which provides that any dispute regarding the contents or construction of the tenancy agreement or dispute arising out of it shall be settled by arbitration in accordance with the provisions of the 1996 act.

“But the words ‘notwithstanding anything in any contract’ in Section 6 of the Tenancy Act will override the arbitration agreement in Clause 15 of the tenancy agreement, where a suit for recovery of possession of any premises has been filed by a landlord against the tenant,” the apex court order said.

The apex court allowed the appeal and set aside the judgments of the high court and the civil judge. It directed the civil judge to hear the matter on the merits of the case.