The Madras High Court has dismissed a writ petition filed by Murasoli Trust challenging a notice issued by the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) in the year 2019 over a complaint by a BJP leader that the land assigned to Scheduled Caste Community (Panchami land) was illegally transferred to Trust.

Presently, Tamil News Paper Murasoli, considered a mouthpiece of the ruling DMK is situated on the subject land. The Court found that the patta with respect to the land was transferred in favour of Murasoli Trust represented by its Managing Trustee Udhayanidhi Stalin as per the Permanent Land Register of the year 2022.

The Court held that the scope of the writ of prohibition cannot be expanded to curb the powers of NCSC from exercising its duties under Article 338(5) of the Constitution.

The writ petitioner had under Article 226 sought for issuance of a writ of prohibition to prohibit NCSC from proceeding with the hearing or adjudication of a complaint given by Dr.R.Srinivasan in 2019.

A Single Bench of Justice S.M. Subramaniam observed, “It is beyond doubt that the Scheduled Castes are entitled to Panchami lands and it is purely for their benefit and welfare that the Depressed Class Land Act was brought about. … The court cannot presume that the Commission will exceed its powers, while conducting inquiry or passing final orders. Mere presumption cannot be a ground to issue a Writ of Prohibition. The scope of writ of prohibition cannot be expanded, so as to curb the powers of the commission from exercising its duties mandated under Article 338 (5) of the Constitution of India."

The Bench said that the Panchami lands are specifically allotted to the members belonging to the disadvantaged Scheduled Caste members and any encroachment or occupation of such lands is per se illegal and strikes at their legal right to the occupation of such lands.

“It squarely falls within the ambit of the NCSC to probe any such complaints with respect to the deprivation of rights and safeguards of the Scheduled Castes. It is the duty of the Commission to inquire into any such illegal occupation of Panchami lands”, it added.

Senior Advocate P. Wilson appeared for the petitioner while ASGI AR.L. Sundaresan, Senior Advocate S. Ravi, Senior Panel Advocate B. Rabu Manohar, and AAG IV R. Ramanlal appeared for the respondents.

Facts of the Case -

Murasoli Trust was in occupation and the erstwhile owner of the subject property had leased out a portion of the property to the Trust. Subsequently, the said Trust purchased the property and patta was transferred in its name and then a complaint was registered by a person before NCSC, stating that the subject land was a Panchami land (Depressed Class Land) assigned to the Scheduled Caste people and illegally transferred in the name of other persons. The complaint was registered by NCSC and a notice was issued to the managing trustee of the trust, asking them to appear in person before the Commission. Being aggrieved from and out of the said notice issued, the writ of prohibition came to be instituted under Article 226 of the Constitution.

The following issues arose before the High Court for its consideration:

(a) Whether the complaint made by R. Srinivasan, who is not a member of Scheduled Caste Community and is not an aggrieved person, maintainable?

(b) Whether NCSC has jurisdiction to adjudicate title disputes of an immovable property under Article 338 of the Constitution of India?

(c) Whether NCSC possesses powers of the Civil Court for the purpose of granting declaration of title or other reliefs over an immovable property?

(d) Whether the subject property is a Panchami land or land allotted to the depressed classes can be ascertained by NCSC?

(e) Whether the registration of the complaint by the 1 st respondent aroused out of political mala fides since the 2 nd respondent / complainant is the State Secretary of BJP party and the petitioner trust is linked to the DMK party, which is one the principal opposition parties to the BJP.

(f) Whether the action of NCSC in issuing notice and conducting an inquiry is vitiated by malice in law due to the fact that the vice chairperson, who was hearing the matter belongs to the BJP party's Tamil Nadu unit, and subsequently appointed as Minister in the Union Government.

The High Court while considering the aforementioned issues said, “In this instance, the notice issued by the NCSC is within the jurisdiction ascribed to it by the Constitution and it is not a case of lack or or excess jurisdiction and keeping in consonance with the principles of natural justice, a primary notice has been issued and no further action has ensued. Hence, this court feels that the petitioner with no adequate reason has approached the court to restrain the commission from initiating an inquiry based on a complaint received. This court finds no merit in seeking a writ to restrain, which will only inhibit the natural course of legal proceedings that needs to be carried out by the Commission.”

The Court further noted that the petitioner Trust with no relevant reasoning has sought for the writ to prevent the Commission from conducting an inquiry and it is at the very preliminary stage that a Writ of Prohibition is sought for when there is no prima facie violation by the NCSC on any accounts.

“The petitioner is well within its rights to demonstrate its case before the Commission. But this court is of the opinion that on receipt of the notice itself, to approach this Constitutional Court for an order to restrain the NCSC to proceed with the natural course of inquiry, is an unnecessary act of haste and is uncalled for. All the more, it is not a case of complete lack of jurisdiction or where an inquiry is inconsistent with the principles of natural justice. It is only right by the law to allow the Constitutional Bodies to perform their assigned function within the framework prescribed, more specifically, Article 338(5)(a) and (b) of the Constitution of India”, it observed.

Furthermore, the Court held that the High Court cannot conduct a roving inquiry to identify the character of an immovable property or the classifications originally made and the developments made subsequently. It added that the High Court cannot usurp the powers of the Commission and such original powers must be exercised in the manner contemplated under Article 338 and the rules of procedures framed thereunder.

“The Constitutional mission of a vibrant democracy will blossom on the bed rock of transparency and truth. Truth being the foundation, all other components are supplemental. The ultimate aim of all the constitutional institutions are to cull out the truth through an inquiry by affording opportunity to the parties. Therefore, the High Court have to exercise restraint in entertaining such writ petitions challenging show cause notice, initiation of proceedings under law to conduct inquiry by the competent authority and to issue prohibitory orders etc. The practice of entertaining such writ petitions and keeping those matters pending for a long period would defeat the constitutional principles and the purpose for which the actions were initiated would get defeated”, it also said.

The Court emphasised that it is the duty of the Political Parties to play their role in voicing out for the people of our great Nation and that there is a marked difference in the leverage given to a complaint filed by political parties rather than a common individual filing a complaint. It remarked that a common man, though within his rights, can file a complaint, there is substantial weightage given when the political parties take up the cause of the public and fight for the said cause.

“Moreover, a common man, though with the will to fight for a cause can approach any Constitutional Institution to redress his grievance, at times the practical difficulties in terms of finances or the means to approach may not always be at his disposal. During such times, it becomes the bounden duty of the Political Parties to appeal the grievances of the common man, more-so, the disadvantaged sections of the society by bringing their issues to the forefront and to fight for their cause”, noted the Court.

The Court said that when the rights of the people are evolving across spectrums, the courts must go beyond the issue of malafideness/political vendetta and look into the merits of the matter.

“It is a fact that petitions filed before the judicial bodies are not devoid of vendetta. But can the entire petition be dismissed at the threshold only because it was lodged with a dose of vendetta. The importance accorded to the complaint should travel beyond this point”, it concluded.

Accordingly, the High Court dismissed the petition, directed NCSC to issue a fresh notice to the parties as per the Rules of Procedures and proceed with the inquiry.

Cause Title- Murasoli Trust v. The National Commission for Scheduled Castes & Ors. (Neutral Citation: 2024:MHC:5719)

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