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Kerala Public Buildings Act | Secretary Of Panchayat Empowered To Act As Estate Officer: High Court

Hannah M Varghese
23 July 2022 11:45 AM GMT
Kerala Public Buildings Act | Secretary Of Panchayat Empowered To Act As Estate Officer: High Court
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The Kerala High Court on Friday held that the Secretary of a Grama Panchayat is empowered to act as Estate Officer under the Kerala Public Buildings (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1968. Justice N. Nagaresh accordingly dismissed a petition alleging that the occupants of a shopping complex were not afforded an opportunity of hearing before the Estate Officer before they were...

The Kerala High Court on Friday held that the Secretary of a Grama Panchayat is empowered to act as Estate Officer under the Kerala Public Buildings (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1968. 

Justice N. Nagaresh accordingly dismissed a petition alleging that the occupants of a shopping complex were not afforded an opportunity of hearing before the Estate Officer before they were served with an eviction notice. 

"The Secretary of the Panchayat is empowered to act as Estate Officer. The Estate Officer has acted in accordance with the provisions of the Act, 1968. The Appellate Authority has considered all aspects of the case and has passed a detailed speaking order."

The respondent Grama Panchayat owns a Shopping Complex with shop rooms occupied by the petitioners who were promptly paying rent. Last year, the Panchayat authorities issued notice to the petitioners disclosing their decision not to renew lease agreements, to which they submitted their objection.

However, the Panchayat issued an order requiring them to vacate shop premises without hearing them. The petitioners hence filed a petition aggrieved by the move to evict them from the Shopping Complex. A Single Judge thereby directed the petitioners to file an appeal before the District Collector.

When the petitioners acted accordingly, the District Collector suggested providing them with a suitable place till a new Shopping Complex is constructed. At this juncture, the Secretary issued a notice notifying that a building of a private party was available for rent. As such, the District Collector rejected the appeal.

The petitioners have filed an application to the District Collector seeking a review of this order. In the meanwhile, they were served with an eviction notice. Aggrieved by this, the petitioners moved the High Court again. 

Advocates Joby Jacob Pulickedy, Anil George, Dajish John, Harikrishnan P and Pooja Sebastian appearing for the petitioners argued the eviction order was passed without giving them an opportunity of hearing. It was added that the Secretary is not competent to exercise the powers of the Estate Officer and therefore the eviction order is passed without jurisdiction. 

Senior Government Pleader Surya Binoy and Standing Counsel Abraham P. Meachinkara opposed the petition citing that they had issued Section 4 notices under the Act to the petitioners and that the objections filed by the petitioners were found unsustainable. It was under such circumstances that they issued the eviction orders. 

The Court noted that Section 5 of the Act empowers Estate Officers to evict unauthorised occupants of public buildings, after affording a reasonable opportunity of hearing and for reasons to be recorded in writing.

Further, it was found that the lease agreements were not renewed by the Panchayat as the Panchayat had decided to demolish the building in order to construct a new building. The Estate Officer found that the petitioners are occupying shop rooms in the existing building unauthorisedly. The Judge also noticed that the objection of the petitioners that the Panchayat has to give alternate accommodation was considered. 

It was found that the scheme of the Act does not contemplate grant of alternate accommodation to unauthorised occupants in a public building before evicting them.

Justice Nagaresh also observed that the Estate Officer had considered the said objection and passed a speaking order, and found no illegality in the impugned order. Additionally, the Court opined that the petitioners were given notice with sufficient clarity and they had filed their objection which was duly considered by the Estate Officer.

The contention that the Secretary is not an Estate Officer and that the Estate Officer has not considered the issue independently was also discarded on the ground that the Secretary of the Panchayat is empowered to act as Estate Officer.

Therefore, it was found that the Estate Officer had acted in accordance with the Act. Accordingly, the writ petition was dismissed.

Case Title: Kizhakkambalam Pachakkari Karshaka Sangham & Ors v. State of Kerala & Ors.

Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Ker) 372

Click Here To Read/Download The Order

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