20 Nov 2023 10:50 AM GMT
The Allahabad High Court has quashed the demolition orders passed by Tehsildar, Agra against Radhasoami Satsang Sabha on grounds of violation of principles of natural justice. The Court held that a society needs more time compared to an individual to file reply to a notice since more stake holders are involved in a society.Justice Manish Kumar Nigam held “In considering reasonableness of...
The Allahabad High Court has quashed the demolition orders passed by Tehsildar, Agra against Radhasoami Satsang Sabha on grounds of violation of principles of natural justice. The Court held that a society needs more time compared to an individual to file reply to a notice since more stake holders are involved in a society.
Justice Manish Kumar Nigam held
“In considering reasonableness of the request for extension of time, it is not possible to ignore that a registered society is not an individual, who has to act on its own and therefore, involving a simple process of application of mind. A registered society is governed by its bye- laws and is composed of many members. The society and the office bearers of the society has a duty to defend the society and also the individual who constituted it after observing the due procedure as provided by the bye-laws of the society which required more time in contrast to individual who has to take a decision of its own.”
The Court held that the petitioner being a registered society should have been given a reasonable time to reply to the notices. Further, it was observed that the Tehsildar had failed to consider the objections raised by the petitioner in its reply.
“In any event, even if, one had any reasonable doubt, if reasonable opportunity had been denied or reasonable request for extension was turned down or whether reasonable opportunity had been given or would appear to have been given, one would rather resolve the doubt in favour of person affected rather than in favour of authority which exercise the power more particularly in case like this with unusual features. A cryptic reply turning down request was wholly arbitrary,” held the Court.
Radhasoami Satsang Sabha is a Religious and charitable Society with the principle ‘Fatherhood of God and Brotherhood of Man’. Its headquarters is in Dayalbagh, Agra. The Sabha has founded and runs various educational and healthcare institutions. Petitioner entered into an agreement with the then Government of United Provinces in 1935 to provide water to agricultural lands of the petitioner for irrigation purposes. A nahar/canal was constructed which was running from river Yamuna on the southern side for 3.5 Km. with maintenance track on either side in its lands in Khasra Numbers 3, 326, 330 and 364 in Jaganpur and 205 in Sikanderpur and also through its lands in village Khaspur. For 85 years, the possession and use of land remained undisputed.
It was alleged that due to pressure from land mafias, the District Administration, Agra illegally constructed a road over certain parts of Applicant’s land. Thereafter, in 2020, an illegal attempt to survey the property of the petitioner without any prior notice. Subsequently, in 2021, respondent authorities illegally demolished the wall erected on the Southern boundary of the Western side maintenance track of the Nahar in Khasra Number 330 of Jaganpur without any prior notice. Against this action, applicant had approached the High Court. However, before the petition could be heard, the authorities demolished the remaining portion of the wall. On a mention made of the writ petition, an order of status quo was passed by the High Court which is in operation till date.
Thereafter, in September 2023, Petitioner received two show cause notices issued by Tehsildar (Sadar), Agra requiring it to show cause as to why its construction over the disputed land be not removed. Petitioner appeared on 22nd September and sought 15 days time to file objections. However, the Tehsildar gave time till 4pm on the same day to file objections. Though petitioner filed a response stating that the Tehsildar had not jurisdiction in the matter, on the next day, prior to passing demolition orders, the Authorities reached at property of the petitioner and began demolishing the gate and boundary walls.
Thereafter, on the next day, 24th September, the police lathi charged the karsevaks who had gathered on the fields of Radhasoami Satsang Sabha without any warning or notice. It was alleged that women and children were also injured in the lathi charge by the police. On the 24th, petitioner was served with notices for demolition dated 14th September, and the orders passed on 22nd September for demolition. Accordingly, petitioner approached the Court alleging illegal demolition. The High Court order that status quo be maintained on the property.
Counsel for petitioner alleged violation of principles of natural justice as notices were not served on the petitioner before passing the demolition orders for certain plots of land. Further, it was argued that providing time till 4pm is denial of opportunity to the petitioner to contest its case. Objections regarding jurisdiction ought to have been dealt with before passing demolition orders. However, the same was not done by the Tehsildar. It was submitted that the petitioner had encroached upon any public land and the entire proceedings were arbitrary.
Per Contra, Counsel for respondents argued that proceedings under Section 26 of the U.P. Revenue Code, 2006 are summary in nature and all questions arising for determination in any summary proceedings under the Code shall be decided upon affidavits in the manner prescribed. It was contended that the petitioner was given opportunity to present his case, accordingly, there is not violation of principles of natural justice. Further, it was argued that the power under Section 26 of the Code is administrative and not judicial or quasi-judicial, therefore, requirement of notice is not mandatory. Lastly, it was argued that the petitioner had the alternate remedy of filing appeal under Section 27 of the Code.
High Court Verdict
Reading Section 26 of the Code along with various decisions of the Supreme Court, the Court observed it does not specifically mandates observance of principles of natural justice. However, relying on Rule 186 (Non-applicability of CPC (Section 214)) of the Civil Procedure Code, the Court observed that principles of natural justice need to adhered to even in summary proceedings.
“Natural justice can be described as “fairplay in action”. The doctrine of natural justice seeks not only to secure justice but also to prevent miscarriage of justice. Natural justice is an important concept in administrative law. It is not possible to define precisely and scientifically the expression “Natural Justice”. The principle of natural justice or fundamental rules of procedure of administrative action, are neither fixed nor prescribed in any code.”
The Court noted that the CPC and CrPC provide rules for civil and criminal courts, however, no such rules are present for adjudicatory bodies which are outside “regular court hierarchy”. Courts have devised a code for fair administration for such bodies.
The Court held that the first step of any adjudicatory process is to serve notice upon a person against whom action is proposed. If notice is not served, “all the consequential action would be declared null and void.” Further, the Court held that not giving sufficient time and opportunity to reply to the notice amounts to denial of notice.
Perusing the records of the case, the Court observed that the petitioner was served notices only for two khasras. Not serving notices for the remaining khasras was in violation of principles of natural justice.
“The natural justice is nothing but procedural fairness. Considering the consequences which are likely to result if allegations are proved against the petitioner. It cannot be said that the procedure adopted by the respondent no. 4 is in consonance with the requirements of a fair trial. In R. V. South West London Supplementary Benefit Appeal Tribunal, Ex ‘p.’ Bullen, (1976) 120 Sol Jo 437 it was held that to fail to accede to a request for an adjournment may amount to a failure to give a hearing and thus to a failure of natural justice or fairness.”
The Court held that unlike an individual, registered society consists of members and bye-laws, therefore, more time is required to take decisions. Further, the Court held that it is upon the authority to balance the requirement of a reasonable opportunity and compulsion of given situation which demands immediate action. Accordingly, the Court held that the petitioner society was not given reasonable opportunity to be heard.
Further, the Court observed that authority had failed to apply its mind on the issue of jurisdiction and non-applicability of U.P. Revenue Code, 2006 to the present proceedings and the impugned orders were vitiated on grounds of non-consideration of objections.
Lastly, reliance was placed on the decisions of the Supreme Court in Whirlpool Corporation Vs. Registrar of Trade Marks, Mumbai and others, Uttar Pradesh Power Transmission Corporation Ltd and another Vs. CG Power and Industrial Solutions Ltd and another and Ghanashyam Mishra and Sons Private Ltd through the Authorised Signatory Vs. Edelweiss Asset Reconstruction Company Ltd through the Director and others to hold that alternate remedy would not serve any purpose in the present case.
Accordingly, the writ petition was allowed with liberty to the authority to pass fresh orders after giving due opportunity of hearing to the petitioner.
Case Title: Radhasoami Satsang Sabha vs. State Of U.P. And 6 Others 2023 LiveLaw (AB) 439
Case citation: 2023 LiveLaw (AB) 439
Appearances: Senior Advocate Anurag Khanna assisted by Ujjawal Satsangi appeared for the petitioner.
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