Municipal property, Roads and its encroachments and public rights- Supreme court

1. More than a century ago in Attorney General v. Corporation of Sunder Land, 1875-76(2) Ch.D 634, the position of the municipal authorities with regard to public parks, gardens, squares and streets was put at par with a trustee, and it was held that the municipal authorities would be guilty of breach of trust in employing any part thereof for purposes other than those contemplated by the relevant statute

2. Supreme Court of India in K.R. Shenoy v Udipi Municipality, AIR 1974 SC 2177. In the above case, the Municipality of Udipi had granted permission for construction of Cinema Hall in a place which was reserved for residential purposes. This action of the Municipality was struck down by observing that the Municipal authorities are supposed to enforce a scheme and not to act in breach thereof. It would be apt to quote what was said by the Supreme Court :- "Where the Municipality acts in excess of the powers conferred by the Act or abuses those powers then in those cases it is not exercising its jurisdiction irregularly or wrongly but it is usurping powers which it does not possess. The right to build on his own land is a right incidental to the ownership of that land. Within the Municipality the exercise of that right has been regulated in the interest of the community residing within its limits of the Municipal Committee. If under pretence of any authority which the law does give to the Municipality it goes beyond the like of its authority and infringes or violates the rights of others, it becomes like all other of the Courts. If sanction is given to build by contravening a bye-law the jurisdiction of the Courts will be invoked on the ground that the approval by an authority of building plans which contravene the bye-laws made by that authority is illegal and inoperative."

3. The same concern was shown by the Supreme Court of India in Bangalore Medical Trust v. B.S. Muddappa, AIR 1991 SC 1902. In this case action of the local authority which was destructive of environment was set at naught.

4. The decisions given by the Supreme Court of India be also noticed. In Municipality v. Mahadeoji, AIR 1965 SC 1147 it observed that inference of dedication of a highway to the public may be drawn from a long user of the highway by the public. It was observed : "The width of the highway so dedicated depends upon the extent of the user. The side land are ordinarily included in the road for they are necessary for the proper maintenance of the road. In the case of a pathway used for a long time by the public, its topographical and permanent landmark and the manner and mode of its maintenance usually indicate the extent of the user." In Manglore Municipality v. Mahadeoji, AIR 1965 SC 1147, it was observed that :- "Inference of dedication of a highway to the public may be drawn from a long user of the highway by the public. The width of the highway so dedicated depends upon the extent of the user. The side lands are ordinarily included in the road for they are necessary for the proper maintenance of the road. In the case of a pathway used for a long time by the public, its topographical and permanent landmark and the manner and mode of its maintenance usually indicate the extent of the user."

5. State of U. P. v. Ata Mohd., AIR 1980 SC 1785, it was held that street would vest in the Corporation only qua the street and not as absolute property. What is vested in the Municipality is not general property or a species of property known to the common law but a special property created by a statute and vested in a corporate body for public purposes. Such vesting enables the Corporation to use the Street as a street and not for any other purpose. Not only pavements but verandahs in front of the shops are part of streets and public streets. State of U. P. v. Ata Mohd.. AIR 1980 SC 1785. The Supreme Court held if the municipality put the street to any other user than that for which, it was intended, the State as its owner, was entitled to intervene and maintain an action to get any person in illegal occupation evicted.

6. Supreme Court in the case of M/s Gobind Pershad v. New Delhi Municipal Committee, AIR 1993 SC 2313. In this case verandahs in Connaught Circus in New Delhi were held to be part of public streets. In para 12 of the judgment it was observed as under : "We see no ground to differ with the concurrent findings of the Court below and hold that the appellant has dedicated the Verandah in dispute to the public-use. It is being used for passing and repassing by the public at large and as such is a "street" in terms of section 3(13)(a) of the Act. The appellant has thus surrendered his rights in the property for the benefit of the public. The user of the property is and always shall be with the public. Any space, passage, verandah, alley, road or footway dedicated to public by the owner for passing and repassing, partakes the character of a "street" and no longer remains under the control of the owner has no right at all times to prevent the public from using the same. When the owner of the . property has, by his own violation permitted his property to be converted into a "street", then he has no right to claim any compensation when the same property is made "public street" under section 17(4) of the Act. The "streets" are meant for public use. It is necessary that the "streets" which are being used by the public are frequently repaired and are also saved from public abuse. It is common knowledge that in the absence of any regulatory control the hawkers and squatters are likely to occupy the "streets" thereby creating nuisance for the public. In a situation like this it is necessary for the committee to step in and exercise its powers under section 17(4) of the Act. The Committee exercises regulatory control and is responsible for the repair and upkeep of the "public streets". The verandah in dispute is a "street". It has been declared as a "public street" for the better enjoyment of the public right in the said street. We hold that when a "street" is declared as "public street" the owner of the property comprising the said "street", has no right to claim compensation."

7. In another case, the Zoning Authority had prevented the spread of a commercial venture as a hotel in and around a lake in the State of Tamilnadu. The local administration did not permit it. The Chief Minister interfered with the local self-government in the district. The Supreme Court was not appreciative of the fact that in such matters of discipline in urban construction and environment protection instructions should be given from the top which result in for violation of planned urban habitats. Pleasant Stay Hotel v. Pilani Conservation Council. 1995 (6) SCC 127.

8. In the case of Delhi Municipal Corporation v. Gumam Kaur, AIR 1989 SC 38, the Supreme Court reiterated the law that to remove an encroachment of a public road is the obligation of a municipality and that an injunction could not be granted to suffer an encroachment of a public place like a street which is meant for the use of the pedestrians.

9. In the case of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation v. D. Balwantsingh. JT 1992 (2) SC 363, the Supreme Court negatived the plea of an occupier of a public street when he obtained an injunction in a suit to prevent the removal of an encroachment. The Supreme Court reiterated its earlier decisions. Removal of encroachment was upheld ; so was the action of the municipal corporation to shift the hawkers to an alternate site.

10. In the case of Gobind Pershad Jagdish Pershad v. New Delhi Municipal Committee, AIR 1993 SC 2313, the Supreme, Court extended the public street into the verandhas in front of a shop which by long user had been used by the public as a passage. Thus, shopping arcades or verandhas adjoining public streets were given the declaration of a public street. Encroachment of such verandhas in front of public streets was held as illegal.

11. Case of Dr. G.N. Khajuria and Ors. Appellants v. Delhi Development Authority and Ors. AIR 1996 SC 253 In paragraph 10, Hon'ble Apex Court observes: --Before parting, we have an observation to make. The same is that a feeling is gathering ground that where unauthorised constructions are demolished on the force of the order of Courts, the illegality is not taken care of fully inasmuch as the Officers of the statutory body who had allowed the unauthorised construction to be made or make illegal allotments go scot free. This should not, however, have happened for two reasons. First, it is the illegal action/order of the Officer which lies at the root of the unlawful act of the concerned citizen, because of which the Officer is more to be blamed than the recipient of the illegal benefit. It is thus imperative, according to us, that while undoing the mischief which would require the demolition of the unauthorised construction, the delinquent Officer has also to be punished in accordance with law. This, however, seldom happens. Secondly, to take care of the injustice completely, the Officer who had misused his power has also to be properly punished. Otherwise, what happens is that the officer, who made the hay when the sun shined, retains the hay, which tempts other to do the same. This really gives fillip to the commission of tainted acts, whereas the aim should be opposite.

12. In Municipal Committee, Karnal, Appellant v. Nirmala Devi , Hon'ble Apex Court has considered encroachment on public street and has held that Municipal Committee had power to have said unauthorised encroachment and construction removed and to recover the costs thereof from such encroacher. Thereby, the Municipal Committee has necessary power to have the unauthorised construction removed and encroacher ejected. If the encroacher does not voluntarily remove the unauthorised construction, the Municipal Committee has power to have it removed by exercise of the power vested under Section 181(2) of the Act. Since the Committee has exercised the statutory power, the award of damages is clearly illegal, unwarranted and unsustainable.

13. In case of Cantorment Board, Jabalpur v. S.N. Awasthi reported at 1995 Supp (4) SCC 595, Hon'ble Apex Court has in paragraph 5 held that construction made in contravention of law cannot be a premium to extend equity so as to facilitate violation of mandatory requirements of law and High Court was not justified in extending equity on this ground.

14. In Debashis Roy v. Calcutta Municipal Corporation reported at 2005 (12) SCC 317, Hon'ble Apex Court has held that the issue about legality or otherwise of conversion of user of parking space in residential area for commercial purposes permitted by Municipal Corporation was not a dispute between private parties and essentially involved an element of public interest.

15. In M.I. Builders v. Radhey Shyam Sahu Hon'ble Apex Court 1996(6) SCC 464 has observed that any commercial activity in unauthorised constructions puts additional burden on locality and it is the primary concern of Court to eliminate the negative impact which it will have on environmental conditions in the area and the congestion that will aggravate on account of increased traffic and people visiting such complex. It is also observed that while directing demolition of unauthorised construction, the Court should also direct an inquiry as to how the unauthorised construction came about and to bring the offenders to book and it is not enough to order demolition only.

16. Observations of Hon'ble Apex Court in M.C. Mehtav. U.O.I. 2006(2) SCALE 364 Judgement dated 16-02-2006, reveal that user, commercial residential is very relevant and occupation load has large impact on various facilities including water, sanitation and drainage. Master plans are prepared to take care of future needs by experts after looking into various aspects like healthy living, environment, Lung space need, land use intensity, areas where residential houses are to be built and were commercial buildings are to be located, need of household industries etc.. Hon'ble Apex Court has also observed that though task of implementation may be difficult, the Court cannot remain the mute spectator when the violations also affect the environment and healthy living of law abiders. The enormity of the problem cannot be a deterrent factor in this respect. It is observed that various laws are enacted, master plans are prepare by expert planners, provision is made in the plans also to tackle the problem of existing unauthorised constructions and misusers and, still such illegal activities go on unabated openly under the gaze of everyone without having any respect and regard for law and other citizens. Hon'ble Court has also observed that laws are not enforced and the orders of the Court are not properly implemented resulting into total lawlessness. It has observed that therefore it is necessary to identify and take appropriate action against officers responsible for this state of affairs because such blatant misuse of properties at large-scale do not take place without connivance of concerned officers. Hon'ble Court therefore found it proper to constitute a Monitoring Committee and the issue of accountability of officers and also the exact manner of applicability of "Polluters Pay Principle" to owners and officers could be taken up after misuser is stopped at least on main roads in New Delhi. The Hon'ble Apex Court has thereafter in last paragraph issue directions about giving of individual notices for stopping of misuser, filing of affidavit to that effect by owners and sealing of premises in default.

17. Hon'ble Apex Court in case of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation v. Nawab Khan Gulab Khan Judgement dated 11-10-1996.It is observed as follows:
“It is apparent that plaintiff or applicant who wants his encroachments on Public Road to be protected by any interim order has to satisfy the court about existence of any legal right in his favour to maintain such encroachment during pendency of suit and for that purpose, he has to point out some title in him authorising him to occupy the portion of public Road or footpath etc.. In the absence of any such legal right, the encroacher cannot be permitted to obstruct the free flow of traffic or cause inconvenience to public at large. Mere long possession or user cannot be an answer to tilt the balance in his favour when in other pan of balance, the Court has to weigh interest of public at large. Even the threat of loosing source of livelihood cannot be, by itself a circumstance in favour of such applicant. He encroached upon public road or footpath knowing fully well that nobody can clothe him with authority to occupy and use it for his private gain. He cannot feign ignorance of provisions of Law and try to raise equity in his favour. Court of Law cannot permit such wrongdoer to continue to injure public at large during pendency of suit. Hence, his plaint itself must contain sufficient material and facts to satisfy the court that the convenience & interest of public at large must suffer because of legal right in his favour, which will be a very rare case”.

”Encroachment of public property undoubtedly obstructs and upsets planned development, echology and sanitation. Public property needs to be preserved and protected. It is but the duty of the State and local bodies to ensure the same. This would answer the second question. As regards the fourth question, it is to reiterate that judicial review is the basic structure of the Constitution. Every citizen has a fundamental right to redress the perceived legal injury through judicial process. The encroachers are no exceptions to that Constitutional right to judicial redressal. The Constitutional Court, therefore, has a Constitutional duty as sentinel qui vive to enforce the right of a citizen when the he approaches the Court for perceived legal injury, provided he establishes that he has a right to remedy. When an encroacher approaches the Court, the Court is required to examine whether the encroacher had any right and to what extent he would be given protection and relief. In that behalf, it is the salutary duty of the State or the local bodies or any instrumentality to assist the Court by placing necessary factual position and legal setting for adjudication and for granting/refusing relief appropriate to the situation. Therefore, the mere fact that the encroachers have approached the Court would be no ground to dismiss their cases. The contention of the appellant-Corporation that the intervention of the Court would aid impetus to the encroachers to abuse the judicial process is untenable. As held earlier, if the appellant-Corporation or any local body or the State acts with vigilance and prevents encroachment immediately, the need to follow the procedure enshrined as a inbuilt fair procedure would be obviated. But if they allow the encroachers to remain in settled possession sufficiently for long time, which would be a fact to be established in an appropriate case, necessarily suitable procedure would be required to be adopted to meet the fact situation and that, therefore, it would be for the respondent concerned and also for the petitioner to establish the respective claims and it is for the Court to consider as to what would be the appropriate procedure required to be adopted in the given facts and circumstances”.

“It is true that in all cases it may not be necessary, as a condition for ejectment of the encroacher, that he should be provided with an alternative accommodation at the expense of the State which if given due credence, is likely to result in abuse of the judicial process. But no absolute principle of universal application would be laid in this behalf. Each case is required to be examined on the given set of facts and appropriate to the facts of the case. Normally, the Court suitable to the facts of the case. Normally, the Court may not, as a rule, directs that the encroacher should be provided with an alternative accommodation before ejectment when they encroached public properties, but, as stated earlier, each case required examination and suitable direction appropriate to the facts requires modulation”.

18. Syed Muzaffar Ali v. Municipal Corporation of Delhi reported at 1995 Supp (4) SCC 426 shows that Hon Apex Court has observed that mere departure from the authorised plan or putting up the construction without sanction does not ipso facto and without more necessarily and inevitably justify demolition of structure. Some cases may be amenable to compounding while the other cases of grave & serious breaches of licensing provisions or building regulations may warrant demolition. Therefore the burden is entirely upon plaintiff or applicant to satisfy the court with material as mentioned above or other relevant material to show that his structure does not violate zoning regulations or development control rules or building bylaws. If after considering such material and after considering the provisions of relevant Law, the Court is satisfied that the unauthorised structure forming subject matter of suit before it can be compounded legally, it can proceed to grant temporary injunction.

19. Bombay High Court in case of Vinayak S Bhapat Vs SP Chandrapur (AIR 2005 Bom R 328) has quoted the Judgement of Shiv Kumar Chadha v. Municipal Corporation of Delhi reported at 1993(3) SCC 161 the Hon'ble Apex Court has considered the issue of grant of temporary injunction in detail from paragraph 30 onwards. The observations made also show that such plaintiff is interested only in getting an order of interim injunction and Hon'ble Apex Court has pointed out that normally such relief is not to be granted without issuing notice to the other side. Hon'ble Apex Court has observed that on many occasions even public interest suffers because of such interim orders. In view of these detail observations of Hon'ble Apex Court, it is not necessary for us to repeat the same again here. However, we have pointed out some of the circumstances which may be relevant for trial court to find out whether applicant has approached it with clean hands and whether there exists any prima facie case in his favour. The encroacher or person who has raised unauthorised structure wants to perpetuate his illegality or irregularity as long as possible and for that purpose wants to engage himself in long drawn legal battle. If in such situation any officer of sanctioning authority who has to defend the action of local body before Court is acting in collusion with such applicant, the local body may avoid to file reply or avoid to defend itself effectively and take adjournments. In that event, the proceedings in court can easily be delayed by applicant and he can continue to enjoy the shelter of interim order. The local body or executive can thereafter defend its inaction by pointing out such pendency in Court as is being done before us. The Court granting such temporary injunction therefore cannot forget its role as custodian and guardian of public interest and it has to safeguard such larger interest independently. Hence, if such temporary injunctions are granted, Court granting it must fix an outer limit beyond which it will not operate. Not only this, if it finds that local body/authority is not co-operating in the matter, it can record an order to that effect and impose heavy costs upon such local authority or officer prima facie found guilty in the matter. In appropriate cases, it can also direct that such costs should be recovered from the officer concerned personally and it can also proceed in contempt against such body or officer. Simultaneously it can also forward copy of its order to concerned Collector or R.D.M.A.for initiation of disciplinary proceedings against such person. If such order is received by Collector or R.D.M.A., the latter shall be under obligation to immediately proceed departmentally against the officer named in the order. The steps about asking the applicant/plaintiff to submit his actual plan for consideration of sanctioning authority as suggested above, in the meanwhile, will also subserve the ends of justice. The advocates appearing for contesting parties before such Court must also ensure that no blame for long pendency can be put upon Court and no adjournment should be asked on the ground of nonavailability of advocate by party in whose favour interim order is operating. No doubt, the subordinate Court has got discretion in the matter of grant of adjournment, however, it has to be conscious of abuse of its process by colluding parties or by influential party and take all precautions to curb or avoid it. The guiding factors mentioned above, if followed, will definitely help the subordinate Court in achieving this goal.

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