Monday, January 28, 2008

SC slams Sikkim HC for evicting widow from rented premises


The Supreme Court has slammed the Sikkim High Court for adopting a "draconian, arbitrary and authoritarian" approach to evict a hapless widow from her rented premises in utter disregard for the law.

In a strongly-worded judgement loaded with severe strictures against the acting Chief Justice of the Sikkim High Court and another judge, the apex court ordered restoration of the possession of the premise to victim Shanti Devi.

A bench of Justices Ashok Bhan and Altamas Kabir regretted that the action of the Sikkim High Court appeared more an effort at giving relief to the owner with "alacrity" rather than addressing the issues raised by the widow who had approached the court for justice.

The apex court strongly deplored the manner in which the Sikkim High Court issued a contempt notice followed by a non-bailable warrant and then ordered the eviction of Shanti Devi.

Offering relief to the victim, the apex court termed the action as "gross abuse of the due process of law which cannot at all be sustained."

Shanti Devi had sought issuance of a fresh trading licence in her name or a transfer of the existing licence, issued in the name of her late husband Ram Nath Prasad, for continuing her family's grocery cum stationary business in Ranipool district of east Sikkim.

The licencing authority, however, dismissed her plea following which she moved the high court. By an order dated September 15 2004, the high court directed the authority to examine her application within a month.

The authority asked her to produce a 'no-objection' certificate from her landlord and when she failed to do so her application was dismissed.

The woman then filed a fresh petition seeking direction to the authority for issuance of licence and pleaded that she be exempted from producing no-objection certificate as the owner was bent upon evicting her, though the family had been carrying out the business from the premises for the past 30 years.

But ironically the high court on June 26, 2006 dismissed her petition and imposed a cost of Rs one lakh and directed her to vacate the premises within a week.

On July 4, 2006 exactly a week thereafter, the landlord filed a contempt petition against Shanti Devi which interestingly was taken up by a division bench of acting chief justice N S Singh and Justice A P Subba which directed the widow to appear before it on the very next day.

A further direction was given to the officer in-charge of Ranipool police station to produce the widow before the court along with a direction to the registry to ensure delivery of a copy of the direction to the woman for her appearance.

On July 5, 2006 when Shanti Devi failed to appear in the high court, the court held her guilty of contempt and issued a NBW with a direction to Chief Judicial Magistrate to ensure the widow's production before the court on July 7.

The district Collector/police authorities were also directed to break open the locks of Shanti Devi's premises and hand over possession to the owner.

"The order passed on the contempt application directing possession to be taken by the police authorities and to make over the same to the respondent No 2(land lord), appears to be in gross abuse of the due process of law which cannot at all be sustained," the apex court remarked.

The bench observed that the case in hand is an example of how the writ courts have in recent time either forgotten or ignored the line between the reliefs which could be given by the civil courts and the Constitution courts.

It appeared that the high court shifted its focus from the reliefs sought by the widow and instead focused efforts in giving relief to the land lord, the apex court said.

"This appears to be the reason for the learned judge to have passed a mandatory order of eviction on the appellant's writ petition, wherein she had, inter alia, prayed for a direction to the authority to issue a fresh trade licence to her on her hu sband's death," the bench said.

The apex court said it has no hesitation in setting aside the high court order with a direction to it for considering Shanti Devi's petition afresh.

"Having regard to the arbitrary and unlawful manner in which possession of the premises in question was made over to the respondent No 2 (land lord) the said respondent is directed to restore possession of the premises in question to the appellant within a fortnight," the bench said while quashing the contempt proceedings and Rs one lakh penalty imposed on her.

The apex court while awarding Rs 25,000 to the widow said its judgement will not preclude either of the parties from pursuing their reliefs before the appropriate forum.

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