The Gujarat High Court on Friday dismissed a petition, seeking that all banks and financial institutions be directed not to initiate any auction/recovery proceedings under the SARFAESI Act till March 31, in light of the COVID-19 challenge.
During hearing, Petitioner's counsel Advocate Vishvash Shah drew the attention of the court towards a recent judgment of the Allahabad High Court in Darpan Sahu v. State of UP & Ors., WP (C) No. 704/2020, whereby it was held that,
"due to serious threat presently to the society in the country due to pandemic disease of Corona Virus(COVID-19), it has become necessary to issue directions to the State Government to issue necessary circulars/directives to the various authorities including the District Magistrates of every district of the State and other Government Agencies and authorities not to take coercive measures or any exercise against any individual or body of individuals which may force them to approach the Courts for legal remedies and also to avoid any public gathering pursuant to any such proceedings like auction etc."
Thus it was submitted that the recovery/auction proceedings may be stayed to cut down litigation until the threat abates.
Declining any relief, a division comprising of Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice Ashutosh J. Shastri said that reliance on the abovementioned case was misplaced as the same had been stayed by the Supreme Court in Union of India v. PD Sunny & Ors., SLP (C) Diary No.10669/2020.
"We have been informed that the Supreme Court, by an order passed today in SLP (Civil) Diary No(s) 10669 of 2020, Union of India vs. P.D.Sunny and others, has stayed the directions issued by the Allahabad High Court vide above order and also similar order passed by the High Court of Kerala. As such, we are not inclined to grant this relief. It is for the Central Government, Ministry of Finance to take a call on the same and no blanket order can be granted," the bench held.
The order in PD Sunny (supra) was passed on Friday, by a bench comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar, Vineet Saran and Krishna Murari, after SG Tushar Mehta submitted that restraining recovery proceedings will incentivize people to either delay payment of taxes or not pay any taxes at all.
The high court also took note of potential overcrowding at religious places and asked the government to come up with appropriate measures to address the same.
"Since the spread of Corona Virus is contagious, gathering of large numbers has to be strictly avoided without fail. If people out of their sentiments continue to gather in large number at places of worship, the entire efforts to take precautionary measures for the spread of COVID-19 would be frustrated.
We would therefore request one and all to refrain from visiting their places of worship and offer their prayer/puja/service from home instead of gathering at the place of worship.
The Government may also take an appropriate decision in this regard and issue necessary circular to all the District Magistrates/Commissioners of Police and Superintendents of Police of all the districts and quarters of the State of Gujarat to ensure that no gathering takes place at any of the places of worship in the State," the bench said.
The court however clarified that it did not intend to stop daily puja/aarti/service/offering of prayer (namaz) and that the management of all the religious places of worship may perform it without making it open to public.
The Court further directed that the Government should take measures to "sensitize and make aware the residents of the suburbans, semi-rural, rural and tribal areas of this pandemic and the precautionary measures they need to take".
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