Seventeen years after Air-India issued a notice of termination to Indian Petroleum Corporation Ltd (IPCL) to vacate its office in multi-storey Air India building at Nariman Point in Mumbai, the Bombay high court (HC) has refused to interfere with the order of eviction.
IPCL had procured two offices on leave and licence basis on the ninth and 19th floor of the Air-India building in 1975 and 1979. At the relevant time, it was a government company, but later it merged with Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL).
In 1995, the airline issued a notice terminating the leave and licence agreement on the ground that it required the premises for its own use.
Another notice was issued to IPCL in 1999 by the Estates officer of Air India said the premises should be vacated for security reasons in view of the serial 1993 bomb blasts in the same building.
However, the HC did not agree with IPCL's argument that there was no security threat. If such argument was accepted then it would mean sitting in judgment over the opinion of those in charge of the maintenance of the premises and safeguarding them.
“Once they find that the safety and security of the premises at the relevant time required minimum number of tenants and visitors in the building, then, it is not for this Court to substitute their views and opinion in writ jurisdiction,” observed Justice SC Dharmadhikari recently.
“There is no merit in this petition because all other contentions are based on the facts before the Estate Officer and appellate authority. Both of them have concurrently found that the eviction of the petitioner from the premises is justified not only because the authority to use and occupy the premises has come to an end but also because the premises are required by Air India,” the judge said.
“The argument that Air India is now going to make profits by letting out the premises at higher market rate, can be taken care of by holding that in this case the orders under challenge are of eviction from the public premises and which orders have been passed long time back,” the judge observed.
The judge added, “While it is true that the subsequent events may be brought to the notice of this court while scrutinising these orders, but what I find that beyond producing a paper cutting nothing has been established much less proved for me to come to a conclusion that the Act has been resorted to arbitrarily, unreasonably and unfairly in the case of petitioner (IPCL).”
During the hearing, IPCL argued that it was a government company at the relevant time when the notices of eviction was issued to them.
IPCL questioned whether a government company can evict another government company under the provisions of Public Premises Eviction (PPE) Act, 1971.
IPCL argued that the provisions of this Act could be invoked only in cases involving private parties which were in unauthorised possession of premises belonging to government or a public enterprise.
The HC, however, did not agree with this argument. “There is no prohibition in law that in such cases PPE Act cannot be invoked,” Justice Dharmadhikari said.
“One fails to understand why any public sector corporation, continuing in occupation even the authority has been determined or such authority has expired cannot be termed as unauthorised occupant,” the judge added.
The court also opined that already the central government and Supreme Court have laid down guidelines to prevent indiscriminate use of powers of eviction under PPE Act.