Saturday, 9 November 2019

Whether old case laws loses precedential value with time?

38. It needs to be stated here that the decisions relied upon by Mr. Lalit are undoubtedly binding precedents for the respective issues decided in those cases but it is not possible to stretch those decisions in support of the point canvassed by him. We must also state here that on the basis of the aforementioned decisions Mr. Lalit was able to build up a persuasive argument. But in the larger perspective and with the change in times we find the submissions quite inacceptable. Here it is important to bear in mind that all the decisions relied upon by Mr. Lalit, from Damadilal to H. Shiva Rao were rendered between 1976 to 1986 during the period when, to put it mildly, the Court used to be overly protective of the tenant and for good reasons too because that is the apparent thrust of the Rent Act. The Rent Act was the socio-legal response to certain historical developments, namely, the acute shortage of housing in the aftermath of the World War, the great influx of refugees in a number of States of the Union following the partition of the country and the massive migration inside the country from rural areas to the urban centres as a result of rapid urbanisation. All these developments that took place almost at the same time skewed the law of supply and demand totally in favour of the landlord. The need of the hour, therefore, was to protect the tenant, who would have otherwise been left completely at the mercy of the landlord. The legislature intervened and brought in the Rent Act, severely restricting the grounds for enhancement of rent and for eviction of the tenant from the rented premises, thus regulating the relationship between the landlord and the tenant beyond the general law under the Transfer of Property Act, 1882. In this regard the Court responded in equal, if not greater measures. But after about three quarters of a century and three generations later when things are no longer the same and the urban centres are faced with newer problems, some of those having their origin in the Rent Act itself, there is the need to take a re-look on the Court's attitude towards the relationship between the landlord and the tenant and to provide for a more level ground in the judicial arena.
39. The way this Court has been looking at the relationship between the Landlord and the Tenant in the past and the shift in the Court's approach in recent times have been examined in some detail in the decision in Satyawati Sharma vs. Union of India & Anr., (2008) 5 SCC 287. In that decision one of us (Singhvi, J.) speaking for the Court referred to a number of earlier decisions of the Court and (in paragraph 12 of the judgment) observed as follows:
"Before proceeding further we consider it necessary to observe that there has been definite shift in the Court's approach while interpreting the rent control legislations. An analysis of the judgments of 1950s to early 1990s would indicate that in majority of cases the courts heavily leaned in favour of an interpretation which would benefit the tenant- Mohinder Kumar vs. State of Haryana1, Prabhakaran Nair vs. State of T.N.2, D.C. Bhatia vs. Union of India3 and C.N. Rudramurthy vs. K. Barkathulla Khan4. In these and other cases, the Court consistently held that the paramount object of every rent control legislation is to provide safeguards for tenants against exploitation by landlords who seek to take undue advantage of the pressing need for accommodation of a large number of people looking for a house on rent for residence or business in the background of acute scarcity thereof. However, a different trend is clearly discernible in the later judgments."
40. He then referred to some later decisions and (in paragraph 14 of the judgment) quoted a passage from the decision in Joginder Pal vs. Naval Kishore Behal (2002) 5 SCC 397, to the following effect:
"... The courts have to adopt a reasonable and balanced approach while interpreting rent control legislations starting with an assumption that an equal treatment has been meted out to both the sections of the society. In spite of the overall balance tilting in favour of the tenants, while interpreting such of the provisions as take care of the interest of the landlord the court should not hesitate in leaning in favour of the landlords. Such provisions are engrafted in rent control legislations to take care of those situations where the landlords too are weak and feeble and feel humble."
(emphasis in original) (1985) 4 SCC 221 (1987) 4 SCC 238 (1995) 1 SCC 104(1998) 8 SCC 275
41. Commenting upon the Full Bench decision of the Delhi High Court that had upheld the Constitutional validity of section 14(1)(e) of the Delhi Rent Control Act and that came under challenge in Satyawati Sharma, Singhvi, J. (in paragraph 29 of the judgment) observed as follows:
"... It is significant to note that the Full Bench did not, at all, advert to the question whether the reason/cause which supplied rationale to the classification continued to subsist even after lapse of 44 years and whether the tenants of premises let for non-residential purposes should continue to avail the benefit of implicit exemption from eviction in the case of bona fide requirement of the landlord despite see-saw change in the housing scenario in Delhi and substantial increase in the availability of buildings and premises which could be let for non -residential or commercial purposes."
42. The decision in Satyawati Sharma then referred to the doctrine of temporal reasonableness and in paragraph 32 observed as follows:
"It is trite to say that legislation which may be quite reasonable and rational at the time of its enactment may with the lapse of time and/or due to change of circumstances become arbitrary, unreasonable and violative of the doctrine of equality and even if the validity of such legislation may have been upheld at a given point of time, the Court may, in subsequent litigation, strike down the same if it is found that the rationale of classification has become non-existent."
43. We reaffirm the views expressed in Satyawati Sharma and emphasise the need for a more balanced and objective approach to the relationship between the landlord and tenant. This is not to say that the Court should lean in favour of the landlord but merely that there is no longer any room for the assumption that all tenants, as a class, are in dire circumstances and in desperate need of the Court's protection under all circumstances. (The case of the present appellant who is in occupation of an area of 9000 sq. ft. in a building, situate at Fort, Mumbai on a rental of Rs. 5236.58/-, plus water charges at the rate of Rs. 515.35/- per month more than amply highlights the point)
Supreme Court of India
State Of Maharashtra & Anr vs M/S Super Max ... on 27 August, 2009

Bench: B.N. Agrawal, G.S. Singhvi, Aftab Alam
Citation: AIR2010SC722,

Read full judgment here: Click here 
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