Ltd. Vs. Kanchanbhai Kanbhai Tadvi & Ors.  INSC 1497 (27 August 2009)
SUPREME COURT OF INDIA CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION CIVIL APPEAL NO.5692 OF
2001 Lokprakashan Ltd. .. Appellant Versus Kanchanbhai Kanbhai Tadvi & Others
.. Respondents WITH
CIVIL APPEAL NO.6299-6300 OF 2001 The Sandesh Limited .. Appellant Versus
Rameshchandra Babulal Shah & Others .. Respondents
These appeals are directed against the judgment and final order
dated 15.6.2001 of the High Court of Gujarat passed in Special Civil
Application No.723 of 2000 along with Special Civil Application Nos.2994 and
6470 of 1999.
As the common question of law is involved in these appeals,
therefore, these appeals are being disposed by a common judgment. The facts of
the Civil Appeal No.5692 of 2001 are recapitulated for properly comprehending
the controversy in the case.
A daily Newspaper namely `Gujarat Samachar' started its
publication of a Gujarat local daily newspaper from Ahmedabad in 1932.
An application was made by the appellant Lokprakashan Limited on
19.1990 to the Municipal Commissioner for grant of 5000 Sq. Mtrs. of land
belonging to the Baroda Municipal Corporation comprised in Final Plot No.1 of
Town Planning Scheme No.9 situated at Baroda at a reasonable price. It was
prayed in the application that the Lokprakashan daily was publishing a Gujarati
Samachar daily from Baroda for the last seven years and as it did not have any
premises of its own, it was operating from a rented premises.
The Municipal Commissioner prepared a proposal for consideration
of the Standing Committee for allotment of land 3 of 5000 Sq. Mtrs. at a price
to be fixed by the Deputy Town Planner for transfer of the land.
The proposal was considered by the Standing Committee of the
Municipal Corporation who has passed a resolution dated 29.11.1990 bearing No.
646, inter alia resolving to approve the proposal of the Commissioner. The
resolution of the Standing Committee was placed before the General Board of the
Baroda Municipal Corporation. There was a proposal for confirmation and
acceptance of the recommendations of the Standing Committee and the second
proposal opposing the sale of the land to the appellant. These proposals were
considered vide Resolutions No.727 and 728.
It may be pertinent to mention that respondent no.1 Kanchanbhai
Kanbhai Tadvi was an elected Councilor and he was present at the meeting and
both the proposals were taken up for consideration in his presence and he voted
in favour of the proposals to accept the recommendation of the Standing
Committee for sale of the land to the appellant and opposed the proposal for
not selling the land to the appellant.
The appellant on 5.1.1991 addressed a communication to the
Municipal Commissioner, Baroda Municipal Corporation, inter alia expressing its
consent to pay the price as may be fixed by the Deputy Town Planner and also
expressed its consent to pay valuation fees on that behalf.
The Baroda Municipal Corporation on 7.1.1991 applied to the
Revenue Department, Government of Gujarat for grant of exemption under section
20 of the Urban Land (Ceiling and Regulation) Act, 1976 (hereinafter referred
to as the `Urban Act') with respect to the land sold to the appellant as well
as with respect to the lands comprised in final plot No.1 of town planning
scheme No.9 originally comprised in revenue survey No. 94. Exemption was sought
for other lands to be sold to the Indian Airlines, Baroda Urban Development
Authority and Gujarat State Fertilizers Company Ltd. as well as exemption was
sought with respect to the land to be sold to the appellant.
The State of Gujarat on 27.5.1993 through the Deputy Secretary,
Revenue Department, in exercise of power under section 20 of the Act, pursuant
to the proposal made for grant of exemption to the land admeasuring 5000 Sq.
Mtrs. proposed to be sold to the appellant, granted exemption under 5 section
20 the Act, subject to certain conditions stipulated in the said order.
The Deputy Commissioner called upon the appellant to pay an amount
of Rs.55 lakhs towards the price of the land valued at Rs.1100/- per Sq. Mtr
The appellant, vide letter dated 26.10.1993, pointed out that very
recently an adjoining land situated in the same final plot was sold to the
Baroda Urban Development Authority at Rs.900/- per Sq. Mtr. Therefore,
considering the said price an appropriate decision should be taken with respect
to the valuation fixed by the Town Planner at Rs.1100/- per Sq. Mtr.
The then Administrator of the Baroda Municipal Corporation on
9.11.1993 addressed a communication to the Additional Chief Secretary, Urban
Development and the Urban Housing Department pointing out that it was decided
in principle to sell 5000 Sq. Mtrs. of land to the appellant for which the
State Government had also granted exemption on 27.5.1993. It was pointed out
that the nearby land situated in same final plot No.1 adjoining the land sold
to the appellant was sold to the Baroda Urban Development Authority at 6
Rs.900/- per Sq. Mtr. The Town Planning Valuation Department had fixed the
value at Rs.1100/- per Sq. Mtr., but in view of the representation made by the
appellant, it was decided to take necessary steps on that behalf.
The appellant was informed by a letter dated 18.12.1993, to
deposit an amount of Rs.50 lakhs towards the consideration of the sale price at
Rs.1000/- per Sq. Mtr. as no final decision was taken by the State Government
with respect to reconsideration of fixation of valuation and the appellant was
also asked to give a bank guarantee of Rs.5 lakhs valid for a period of one
year. The appellant was also informed that it would be informed about the
differential amount to be paid or received by the State Government.
The appellant forwarded a Cheque dated 21.12.1993 of Rs.50 lakhs
drawn on the Central Bank.
The Deputy Municipal Commissioner (Administration) of the
Municipal Corporation, Baroda on 23.12.1993 executed a possession receipt and
handed over the possession of 5000 Sq. Mtrs. of land comprised in final plot
No.1 of Town Planning 7 Scheme No. 9 in accordance with the approval of the
same by the Municipal Commissioner, Baroda Municipal Corporation.
A letter was addressed by the Office of the Town Planning
Department, State of Gujarat on 5.1.1994 pointing out that the price fixed by
the Deputy Town Planner by his letter dated 30.8.1993 at Rs.1100/- per Sq. Mtr.
was just and proper.
A registered `Deed of Sale' was entered into between the appellant
and the Baroda Municipal Corporation on 17.4.1995. Under the delegation of
powers contained under the Bombay Provincial Municipal Corporations Act, the
powers of the Commissioner to sign the document of sale are delegated to the
Land Estate Officer who had signed the document for sale.
It is submitted that the appellant had invested its available
funds in setting up other Presses at Surat, Rajkot and Bombay and, therefore,
on account of diversion of funds, it had not been possible for the appellant to
erect the Press Building on the land in question immediately after the sale
deed was executed.
One Dinesh B. Shukla, who was petitioner no. 2 before the High
Court made representation to the Chief Minister of the State of Gujarat on
12.11.1999, inter alia seeking cancellation of the grant of exemption granted
to the appellant by order dated 27.5.1993.
A petition being Special Civil Application No.723 of 2000 was
filed before the High Court on 20.1.2000 praying for issuance of a writ to set
aside the order of the State Government dated 27.5.1993 exempting the land in
question under section 20 of the Act and also to set aside the Resolution of
the General Board of the Municipal Corporation.
The Division Bench of the High Court in the impugned judgment held
in favour of the petitioner Corporation before it and directed the Corporation
to pay the amount paid by the appellant with interest. Hence, these appeals.
According to the appellant the public interest petition filed
against him was an abuse of the process of the court because the appellant was
granted approval by the concerned authorities almost a decade ago and
thereafter the petition 9 was filed with an oblique motive. This petition
deserves to be dismissed on the ground of latches alone.
The learned counsel appearing for the appellant relied on the case
of Narmada Bachao Andolan v. Union of India & Others (2000) 10 SCC 664 and
particularly emphasized on the finding of this Court that just because the
petition is termed as a public interest litigation does not mean that ordinary
principles applicable to litigation will not apply.
According to the appellant, the impugned judgment of the High
Court is wholly unsustainable in view of the law declared by this Court. There
has been no explanation whatsoever for an inordinate delay for more than 10
petition filed by the respondent deserves to be dismissed with costs.
The appellant next relied on S.P. Gupta v. President of India
& Others 1981 (Supp) SCC 87, wherein it was observed in para 24 as under:
we must be careful to see that the member of the public, who approaches the
Court in cases of this kind, is acting bona fide and not for personal gain or
private profit or political motivation or other oblique consideration. The
Court must not allow its 10 process to be abused by politicians and others to
delay legitimate administrative action or to gain a political
The appellant also submitted that section 79 of the Bombay
Provisional Municipal Corporations Act, 1949, particularly clause (c) thereof,
clearly permits the Corporation to sell immovable property even without public
auction provided the procedure is fully followed. In the instant case, the
procedure was admittedly fully followed. The price at which the land was sold
was Rs.1000/- per Sq. Mtr. and it was not less than the then current market
value because the Town Planner had suggested Rs.1100/- per Sq. Mtr., the
adjoining plot was auctioned by the Baroda Urban Development Authority at a
price of Rs.900/- per Sq. Mtr.
price was also reasonable and not below the market value.
The appellant had paid a sum of Rs.50 lakhs @ Rs.1000/- per Sq.
Mtr. before this Court and thus, section 79 stands complied with.
The appellant also submitted that it is an established newspaper
since 1932 and this Court has clearly upheld the 11 right of the newspapers
under Article 19(1)(a) in a series of judgments including the following: Indian
Express Newspapers (Bombay) Private Ltd. & Others v. Union of India &
Others (1985) 1 SCC 641; Express Newspapers Pvt. Ltd. & Others v. Union of
India & Others (1986) 1 SCC 133.
Therefore, even otherwise the decision to sell the land to the
appellant was to sub-serve the public interest because it is now held that not
only the Press have a right guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of freedom of
speech through publication, but public at large has the right to have
information disseminated, as held in the case of Tata Press Ltd. v. Mahanagar
Telephone Nigam Ltd. (1995) 5 SCC 139.
The learned counsel for the appellant further submitted that the
purchase of the land has been totally in consonance of all rules and
regulations and with the approval of the concerned authorities. All procedural
formalities have been strictly complied with. Even the sale deed was also
executed long back in the year 1995 and this petition was filed after a gap of
more than a decade with oblique motive is an abuse of the process of the court.
We have heard learned counsel for the parties. The sale of land in
favour of the appellant Newspaper, by no stretch of imagination, can be said to
be in violation of any rules or regulations. In the facts and circumstances of
the case, in our considered view, the impugned judgment of the High Court
cannot be sustained.
Consequently, the appeals are allowed and the impugned judgment of
the High Court is set aside. In the facts and circumstances of this case, we
direct the parties are directed to bear their own costs.
.................................J. (Dalveer Bhandari)
.................................J. (Harjit Singh Bedi)
August 27, 2009.