On 14th August 2020 Supreme Court issued an order to de-seal all the residential buildings in Delhi within three days, which were sealed by the Monitoring Committee on the grounds of defying the norms pertaining to illegal construction.
A three-judge bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra delivered a crucial judgement, said that the Monitoring Committee appointed by the Supreme Court, had no authority to seal the private residential buildings which were not used for a commercial purpose in the capital region. The Constitution of India directs that a person can be bereft of property and right of residence, but only in a method directed by law.
The PIL dates back to 1985 in issue, when the court took up the matters concerning the environment in Delhi, moving heavy industries, stopping all mining activities in Aravali hills in Delhi, abuse of premises, and construction sanction among others.
The Court categorically stated that they did not empower the Committee to seal residential premises when they were not being used commercially. The bench vehemently observed that “It would not be apt to the Monitoring Committee to seize statutory powers and act beyond the authority given upon it by the Court. The committee should neither have sealed the residential premises, which were not misused for the commercial purpose as stated via Report No. 149, nor it should have directed the annihilation of residential properties.”
In 2006, the Supreme Court appointed a Monitoring Committee in connection with a PIL, M.C Mehta v. Union of India & Ors., for determining intrusion and unauthorized construction and to identify residential properties used commercially. Later in 2018, a Special task Force (STF) was instituted by SC. STF was endowed with the duty of eliminating intrusion on public properties like footpaths, roads, etc. The STF was to work in assistance with the Monitoring Committee in identifying areas in Delhi that required immediate action in contrast to invasion or intrusion.
The order issued by the court on 14th August 2020 is the first time where the committee’s power is in question. This judgment came after the committee ordered to seal 11 residential properties in Vasant Kunj and Rajkori area complaining about illegal construction. The committee submitted report No. 149 dated to the SC on 04.04.2019 for approval. It was observed that the Delhi state government and the Central government were opposing the committee’s action of sealing the residential buildings.
Some contended on behalf of the residents that there was no authority with the Monitoring Committee to seal purely residential premises. It was pointed out that their structure was in consonance with the Master Plan (MPD-2021) within Low-density Residential Area (LDRA) changed through Notification No. S.O.1199(E) dated 10.05.2013 and Notification No. S.O.1744(E) dated 18.06.2013. hence. The residential premises should be de-sealed.
Learned Amicus Curiae argued that the Monitoring Committee is authorized to see construction with sanction plan or construction contrary to sanction plan and their regularization cannot be allowed.
J. Arun Mishra observed that no doubt the matter of intrusion, the invasion is a matter of worry, but the Committee can act within the four sections of powers given upon. It cannot outshine its powers and take any measures beyond its authority.
The court further stated that when we contemplate the various orders passed by this Court, we find that Court at no point in time has authorized the Committee to take measures regarding residential premises not used for commercial purposes.
The court quashed report number 149 of the committee issued on 2nd April 2019, concerning the presumed illegal construction in Rajkori and Vasant Kunj. It does not allow the Committee to take action in matters related to the residential premises on private land. If there is an illegal construction or in case of divergence, the required provisions are under the DMC Act, such as Sections 343,345,347(A), 347(B).
The court after concluded that, “We are not going into the merits of the other submissions, whether the premises are authorized or unauthorized, can be formalized or not, compounding can be done, or whether there is any divergence made, the report of the Committee and findings recorded by it are of no use as it had no such authority to go into various questions. The Court did not appoint the Monitoring Committee concerning every residential building on private land not misused for commercial purposes and to deal with the same. In the present case, this Court itself is monitoring the matter for a limited public purpose. It has not taken away the powers of the statutory authorities under the Act concerning other matters except specified in the order”.
The court finally held that “Let the sealed property, according to Report No. 149, be de-sealed, and possession is reinstated to the owners right away. Let this order comply within 3 days.”
Thus, the SC has set the balance right by recognizing that the authorities should work within its powers.
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This content was written by Isha Ahir, a law student from the University of Delhi.