The Karnataka High Court noted the critical role of the state and its instrumentalities as model litigants, emphasizing the imperative adherence to due process in upholding the rule of law, both substantively and procedurally.

The Court allowed the set of petitions filed by Street vendors seeking declarations and reliefs against the forced eviction by Municipal Officers.

The Court noted that Officers of the corporation, with pourakarmikas and police, illegally seized the premises without due process. They handed possession to an auction bidder, an action not directed by the court or permitted by law.

The Bench of Justice Suraj Govindaraj observed, “the State and its instrumentalities are required to be model litigants and are required to follow the due process of law if the State and its Authorities were to act like hooligans… In order to maintain rule of law the State and its instrumentalities would have to follow the law applicable both substantive and procedural”.

Advocates Suman Hegde and PM Siddamallappa appeared for the Petitioners, Advocate Geetha Devi appeared for the Municipality and Additional Government Advocate ​​Naveen Chandrashekar appeared for the State.

The Petitioners sought declarations and reliefs, including a declaration asserting that the respondents lacked legal authority to auction the leased property during the tenancy. Alternatively, they sought recognition as "Tenants Holding Over" and a writ instructing the respondents to determine fair rent.

The Petitioners, who are street vendors leasing premises for rehabilitation, faced forced eviction by Municipal Officers despite their efforts to make the premises habitable, resulting in significant harm and misery. They presented evidence of the forced eviction and emphasized a municipal resolution extending the lease. The Petitioners approached the court seeking intervention to challenge the lawfulness of the eviction and to request adherence to proper legal procedures.

The Court framed the first issue: “Whether on the expiry of a lease/license executed by the Corporation, Municipality or the like, would such Corporation, Municipality forcibly vacate the persons in occupation of the shops leased/licensed by the Corporation/Municipality or is required to follow any particular procedure?"

The Court noted that the disputed premises, constructed using IDSMT funds, were occupied by the petitioners for vending fruits, vegetables, cereals, etc., as petty traders meeting daily requirements. The petitioners claimed possession from 1999 to 2000, initially for five years, extended through municipal resolutions, with the lease purportedly extended until 2025 as per a resolution dated November 21, 2011. However, this resolution was subject to State Government approval, which was denied in 2009, challenging the continued validity of the lease.

Following the expiration of the lease, the Bench noted that the Municipality auctioned the shops, allowing petitioners' participation. Some succeeded, while others did not, resulting in third parties acquiring certain shops. The Karnataka Grama Panchayat and Panchayathraj (Taluk Panchayat Movable and Immovable Properties Transfer) Rules, 2017, outlined the auction process and the right of first refusal, which the petitioners did not exercise.

The Bench observed that the lease had ended, and the petitioners neither succeeded in the auction nor exercised the right of first refusal, the Municipality's only recourse was to initiate eviction proceedings. The Municipality could either invoke the provisions of the T.P. Act for eviction or resort to The Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1971. The property undisputedly belonged to the Municipality, and the petitioners were lessees/licensees.

The Court noted, “the authorities cannot take the law into their own hands and cause forcible eviction of the lessee/licensee but are required to follow the due process of law by initiating necessary proceedings and obtain judicial/quasi-judicial orders for eviction and thereafter enforce the same”. The Court held that, upon lease/license expiry, the Municipality cannot forcibly evict occupants but must follow the procedures prescribed under The Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1971, or The Transfer of Property Act.

The Court framed the second issue: "Whether in the present case the handover of the premises by the respective petitioners can be said to be voluntarily handed over as per the submission of Ms. Geethadevi. M.P, learned counsel for the Municipality?”.

The Court examined the Videos of the day's events and relied on the municipality's pen drive containing these videos. The videos, admitted as true by the municipality, depicted more than 20 to 30 Pourakarmikas, 5 to 10 officers, and 5 to 10 policemen assembling before dawn. Some were carrying new locks and keys, while others had crowbars. A public announcement, indicating compliance with court orders and the conclusion of auction proceedings, was repeatedly made.

The Bench observed that while the lease had expired and auction proceedings were concluded, it had never directed the municipality to forcibly evict the shopkeepers. The Court emphasized that the municipality should have initiated proper legal proceedings for eviction, following due process of law, as per its previous direction.

The Court deemed the action taken by the municipality, including the use of crowbars and police powers, as an abuse of official powers. The Court noted instances where no action was taken in places occupied by successful auction bidders, highlighting a selective and improper eviction process.

The Court ordered the Municipality to return possession to the petitioners within 10 days, allowing them to continue their business until lawful eviction. The Municipality may take permissible actions under relevant laws. The Court directed compensation of Rs. 200 per day for affected shopkeepers from the forced dispossession until the premises reopen. The Secretary of the Urban Development Department must guide all entities under his jurisdiction to follow legal processes, preventing litigation and compensation. The Principal Secretary of the Urban Development Department will conduct an independent inquiry and take action against any officials in violation.

Accordingly, the Court allowed the Petitions.

Cause Title: K T Suresh v State Of Karnataka (2024:KHC:3457)

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