A Supreme Court bench of Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Mohan M Shantanagoudar on Wednesday ruled that Anatha Shishu Sevashram, a public charitable society based in Bangalore, by repeatedly approaching the courts of law in a land acquisition dispute for almost the same relief which was negated by the courts for three decades, has committed contempt of court.
Although the apex court refrained from initiating contempt proceedings or imposing heavy costs on the present respondent, the bench remarked, “This matter is a classic example as to how a litigant before the Court takes disadvantage of the process of law and the court by repeatedly tapping the doors of the courts for almost the same relief, after losing legal battles on a number of occasions”.
In November 1977, the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) had issued a notification under Section 17(1) of the BDA Act, proposing to acquire a vast extent of land in two villages. The purpose of acquisition was to form a residential layout. The preliminary notification of December 1977, and the final declaration of August 1979, included land of over 25 acres belonging to the present respondent. In June 1985, the Additional Land Acquisition Officer passed an award in favour of the BDA in respect of 127 acres of land, including the disputed area of 25 acres, despite a petition in that behalf having been filed by the respondent before the Officer. The said award was approved by the Government of Karnataka in September 1986, and consequently the award amount was deposited by the BDA.
Thereafter, the present respondent filed two suits for permanent injunction, firstly, in June 1985, and then in 1989, against the BDA in respect of the disputed land of over 25 acres, in both of which it was observed that the BDA had acquired the property and had taken the possession of the property. It was also observed that the title vested with the BDA. The respondent did not stop at that and instituted a writ petition before the Karnataka High Court in August 1991, challenging the preliminary notification as well as the final declaration, which was dismissed for delays and laches. The writ appeal therefrom was also dismissed by the division bench in November 1991.
This was followed by another writ petition praying for a direction to the state government to consider its representation for de-notification and for reconveyance of the land, which was disposed of in December 1992, with the observation that the government will hear and dispose of the representation of the present respondent in accordance with law.
In February 1993, the representation of the present respondent was rejected by the state government. Even this did not deter the respondent, which proceeded to challenge the state government’s order in a writ petition which was dismissed in February 1996. Another writ petition seeking an injunction to restrain the BDA from constructing a road in the disputed property was also dismissed as withdrawn in July 1996. In the meanwhile, the present respondent before the Supreme Court filed a fifth writ petition before the high court, praying for the enforcement of a 1994 state government order permitting the present respondent to run a school from the disputed premises even though the order had been subsequently modified. This writ petition was also dismissed in October 1999.
This was followed by a third suit for injunction in 1999, which was dismissed for default. Finally, there was a sixth writ petition before the high court in 2004, filed on the grounds that the scheme formed by the BDA for residential layout had lapsed, the lay-out plan was illegal, there was no vesting of land in the BDA and that the allotment of sites to various allottees was illegal. This sixth petition was dismissed by the single judge in March 2007. Therefrom, a writ appeal was preferred and the division bench by judgment dated April 19, 2011, though did not interfere in the order passed by the single judge, proceeded to grant the liberty to the present respondent to work out its remedy in civil court once again.
It is from this judgment dated April 19, 2011, of the division bench of the high court that the present appeal has arisen. The bench observed, “The present respondent has already approached the civil court thrice and high court on six occasions. Whenever the suits are withdrawn, respondent has not sought any liberty to approach the civil court once again. Thus, it was not open for the respondent to approach the civil court repeatedly for the very reliefs. Even when the respondent approached the High Court of Karnataka by filing the writ petitions and writ appeals, it has failed.”
The top court remarked, “Futile attempts have been made by the respondent only to see that the allottees are harassed and to keep the litigation pending... It is a clear case of abuse of process of law as well as the court.”
The Supreme Court criticised the approach of the high court division bench in leaving scope for the present respondent to seek relief at the behest of a civil court, not only because such a matter is beyond the jurisdiction of a civil court, but majorly because “in the light of such voluminous records and having regard to the fact that the respondent has been repeatedly making futile attempts by approaching the courts of law by raising frivolous contentions, the division bench ought not to have granted liberty to approach the civil court once again for the very same relief, for which it has failed earlier”.
“The Division Bench has completely erred in reviving the dispute which had long been given a legal quietus after a series of litigations”, concluded the Supreme Court, setting aside the impugned judgment dated April 19, 2011, of the division bench.