Holding that a person running a canteen on court premises is in temporary possession and, therefore, is not entitled to relief under Section 6 of the Special Relief Act, 1963, the Bombay High Court has set aside a judgment of the city civil court in Mumbai dated August 31, 2015.
A bench of Justice Mridula Bhatkar was hearing a civil revision application filed by the Bombay Advocates Association challenging the judgment of the city civil judge wherein the applicants were directed to deliver the possession of the canteen premises to one Prabhakar Mudura Puthran.
Prabhakar was running the canteen on the premises of the small causes court where the applicant bar association practices. He was allowed to run the canteen from 1985 by the association on terms and conditions that varied from time to time.
The canteen premises belonged to the Public Works Department of the state government.
Prabhakar was providing food at subsidised rate to the members of the bar association.
In 2002, the Public Works Department raised a bill of Rs. 6,97,530.60 towards electricity and water charges. Thereafter, the association received an eviction notice from the Public Works Department.
The notice was challenged by the association in the high court. In an interim order dated December 10, 2002, the court stayed the eviction notice and directed the association to pay Rs. 50,000 towards arrears and fixed a monthly rent to be paid for the canteen.
In June 2011, Rs. 5,50,396 was still pending towards arrears and the association directed Prabhakar to pay the sum or vacate the premises.
Thereafter, Prabhakar alleged that the association took forceful possession of the premises which had his belongings.
Senior advocate Prasad Dhakephalkar appeared for the association and denied any forceful possession of the said premises. He submitted that Prabhakar was given a contract to run the canteen, however, upon refusal to share the electricity charges, his services were discontinued.
He further submitted that keys to the canteen were voluntarily given by Prabhakar and presently someone else is running the canteen.
Prabhakar’s lawyer Pradeep Thorat contended that his client had been serving food at a subsidised rate to the members of the bar association and paid a monthly rent of Rs. 4,500, still an ‘illegal demand’ of payment of electricity and water charges was made and when his client denied to pay the money, he was forcibly dispossessed from the canteen premises.
After examining all the facts on record, the court observed:
“Canteens run by the contractors in the Court premises is a routinely disputed issue, which is always referred to the Principal District Judges or the Chief Judges by the respective Courts. Canteen is a necessity in each and every Court. The Court staff and the members of the Bar including the Judges are required to work for long hours. In Courts, the contractors are appointed by Bar Associations or by the Associations of the Court staff to give food service to the litigants, members of the Bar and the Court staff. The contractor remains there for years together and then, tries to create his possessory right in the canteen.
However, it cannot be said that they are in possession of the said earmarked Court premises exclusively. It is made clear that in the Court premises, no person can claim possession but it is always a temporary day to day or periodic allowance that is given to the said person with the permission of the Principal District Judge or the Chief Judge of the said Court.”
Thus, the court held that relief under Section 6 of the Special Relief Act is not meant for a person running a court canteen as he is not in de-facto possession of the premises, but only temporary possession, and allowed the revision application.