Kanaiyalal Chandulal Monim Vs.
Indumati T. Potdar & ANR  INSC 14 (20 February 1958)
SINHA, BHUVNESHWAR P.
IMAM, SYED JAFFER SUBBARAO, K.
CITATION: 1958 AIR 444 1958 SCR 1394
Municipal Law-Water Supply-Landlord
withholding essential supply-Tenant not in enjoyment after enactment-Conviction
of landlord-Legality-Bombay Rents Hotel and Lodging House Rates Control Act
(Bom. LVII of 1947), S. 24.
Section 24(1) of the Bombay Rents Hotel and
Lodging House Rates Control Act, 1947, provides: " No landlord either
himself or through any person acting or purporting to act on his behalf shall
without just or sufficient cause cut off or withhold any essential supply or
service enjoyed by the tenant in respect of the premises let to him." By
Explanation 11 : " For the purposes of this section, withholding any
essential supply or service shall include acts or omissions attributable to the
landlord on account of which the essential supply or service is cut off by the
local authority or any other competent authority." The appellant was
prosecuted under S. 24 of the Bombay Rents Hotel and Lodging House Rates
Control Act, 1947, on a complaint by the tenant, the first respondent, on June
14, 1954, for having refused or neglected to have water connection made for the
premises. The water supply to the premises was cut off by the Municipality in
1947 due to the default in payment of the municipal taxes by the
predecessor-in-title of the appellant, but the tenants, including the first
respondent, continued in occupation of the premises without having the use of
municipal water supply. It was contended for the appellant that his conviction
was invalid because (1) he was not liable for the default made by his
predecessor-in-title, and (2) in any case, s. 24 was not applicable inasmuch as
the supply of municipal water was not enjoyed by the first respondent when the
Act came into force:
1395 Held: (1) that though the appellant
might not have been directly responsible for the cutting off of the supply of
municipal water, it was within his power to get the supply restored by the
Municipality on payment of the prescribed fee and in so far as he omitted to do
so, such an omission was attributable to him within Explanation 11 of s. 24 of
the Act, and therefore he was withholding an essential supply within the
meaning of S. 24(1) Of the Act;
(2) that under S. 24 Of the Act the essential
supply should have been available for the use of the tenant at some time when
the Act was in force, and as, in the instant case, the first respondent was not
in enjoyment of the supply of municipal water at any time after the coming into
effect of Act, the appellant could not be convicted under that section.
CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION : Criminal
Appeal No. 65 of 1956.
Appeal by special leave from the judgment and
order dated April 22, 1955, of the Bombay High Court in Criminal Revision
Application No. 449 of 1955, arising out of the judgment and order dated March
24, 1955, of the Court of the Presidency Magistrate, Seventh Court, Dadar,
Bombay in Case No. 215/S of 1955.
Rameshwar Nath, S. N. Andley and J. B.
Dadachanji, for the appellant.
T. Satyanarayan, for respondent No. 1.
N. S. Bindra and R. H. Dhebar, for respondent
1958. February 20. The Judgment of the Court
was delivered by SINHA J.-The only question for determination in this appeal,
is whether an offence punishable under s. 24(1)(4) of the Bombay Rents Hotel
and Lodging House Rates Control Act LVII of 1947 (hereinafter referred to as
the Act), has been brought home to the appellant.
The facts of this case are short and simple.
The appellant is the owner, by purchase in 1945, of certain premises situate in
Vile Parle, Bombay. Under the predecessor-intitle of the appellant, was a tenant,
named Thirumal Rao Potdar, in respect of a room in 177 1396 those premises, at
a monthly rent of Rs. 20 including water rate of Rs. 2. After the, appellaiit's
purchase, the tenant aforesaid continued to hold the tenancy on those very
The said premises used to enjoy the amenity
of water supply from a municipal tap. As the appellant's predecessor-in -title
had made default in payment of municipal taxes, the water supply had been cut
off by the Municipality early in May, 1947. Since after that, the tenants
including the said Thirumal Rao, had the use of well water only from a neighbouring
tenant. Thirumal Rao died in or about the year 1950, and his widow, the first
respondent, continued in occupation of the premises, without having the use of
municipal water supply though she continued to pay the original rent plus annas
10 more by way of 'permitted increase'. Thus, the landlord the appellant-went
on receiving the monthly rent of Rs. 20-10-0 from the first respondent without
giving her the benefit of water supply from the municipal tap. The Act came
into force on February 13, 1948. The tenancy appears to have been recorded in
her name some time in 1951. Nothing appears to have happened until April, 1954,
when the first respondent brought it to the notice of the Municipal authorities
that the supply of water from the municipal tap had been stopped since 1947.
The Municipality answered the first
respondent's complaint by a letter dated May 24, 1954, saying that the water
connection could be restored on payment of Rs. 11-4-0 only, being the fee for
doing so, if the owner's consent was produced. Before receiving this answer
from the Municipality, the tenant got a letter written to the appellant,
through a pleader, asking him to refund Rs. 72 being the amount charged for
water supply at Rs. 2 per month, which was included in the total rent aforesaid
for three years after the tenancy had been mutated in her name.
The letter also stated that the supply of
water had been withheld by the landlord by allowing the Municipality to
disconnect the water connection for non-payment of municipal dues. The landlord
was also called upon to get the water connection restored, and if he failed to
do so, prosecution under 1397 s.24 of the Act, was threatened. As the appellant
had refused or neglected to have the water connection restored, the tenant
filed a petition of complaint on June 14, 1954, for the prosecution of the
appellant under s. 24 of the Act.
The appellant was convicted. after a trial by
the 7th Presidency Magistrate, Dadar, by his judgment and order dated March 24,
1955. He was sentenced to undergo one day's simple imprisonment, and to pay a
fine of Rs. 150, and in default of payment, to undergo one month's simple
imprisonment. The appellant moved the High Court of Bombay in revision against
the order of conviction and sentence aforesaid. The matter was heard by a judge
sitting singly, who summarily rejected the application by an order dated April
22, 1955. The appellant moved the High Court for a certificate that this was a
fit case for appeal to this Court, which was refused by a Division Bench on May
16, 1955. Thereafter, the appellant moved this Court for special leave' which
was granted on October 10, 1955.
Hence, this appeal.
The learned counsel for the appellant raised
a number of contentions against the conviction and sentence imposed upon the
appellant, but in the view we take of the provisions of s. 24 of the Act, it is
not necessary to pronounce upon all those contentions. The most important question
which we have to determine in this appeal, is whether the constituent elements
of an offence under s. 24(1), have been made out on the facts found in this
case. Section 24 is in these terms " 24. (1) No landlord either himself or
through any person acting or purporting to act on his behalf shall without just
or sufficient cause cut off or withhold any essential supply or service enjoyed
by the tenant in respect of the premises let to him.
(2) A tenant in occupation of the premises
may, if the landlord has contravened the provisions of subsection (1), make an
application to the Court for a direction to restore such supply or service.
(3) If the Court on inquiry finds that the
tenant has been in enjoyment of the essential supply or 1398 service and that
it was cut off or withheld by the landlord without just or sufficient cause,
the Court shall make an order directing the landlord to restore such supply or
service before a date to be specified in the order. Any landlord who fails to
restore the supply or service before the date so specified shall for each day
during which the default continues there, after be liable upon a further
direction by the Court to that effect to fine which may extend to one hundred
(4) Any landlord, who contravenes the provisions
of subsection (1) shall, on conviction, be punishable with imprisonment for a
term which may extend to three months or with fine or with both.
Explanation I.-In this section essential
supply or service includes supply of water, electricity, lights in passages and
on staircases, lifts and conservancy or sanitary service.
Explanation II.-For the purposes of this
section, withholding any essential supply 'or service shall include acts or
omissions attributable to the landlord on account of which the essential supply
or service is cut off by the local authority or any other competent
authority." The explanation II was inserted by s. 16 (2) of the Amending
Act, namely, Bombay Act 61 of 1953, and the explanation 1, as it now stands,
was the only explanation before the amending Act was passed. It has not been
denied before us that the supply of tap water is an essential supply, and that
is beyond controversy in view of explanation 1. What has been argued, is that
the supply of municipal water had been cut off by the Municipality as a result
of the default in payment of municipal dues, by the appellant's
predecessor-in-title. It may be that the appellant was not to blame for the
default in payment of municipal dues, but it was open to him to pay Rs. 11-4-0
and have the water connection restored. He may not have been directly
responsible for the .cutting off of the supply of municipal water, but it was
within his power to get the supply restored by the Municipality on payment of
the prescribed fee. Hence, 1399 in so far as the appellant omitted to do so,
such an omission is attributable to him within the meaning of explanation II
which was inserted into the Act in 1953.
There can, therefore, be no doubt that the
appellant was continuing to withhold an essential supply within the meaning of
s. 24, as it stood in 1953.
But that is not the only essential ingredient
of the offence created by s. 24. In order to attract the provisions of that
section, it is also necessary that the second ingredient of the offence, should
be there, namely, that that essential supply-tap water supply by the
Municipality should have been enjoyed by the tenant. Is it enough that this
essential supply should have been " enjoyed " by the tenant at any
past time, however remote, or that it should have been " enjoyed " at
any time after the coming into effect of the Act? We are assuming for the
purposes of this decision that the first respondent was the tenant at all
material times. In our opinion, the section makes it essential that the particular
essential supply should -have been available for the use of the tenant at some
time when the Act was in force. If, on the other hand, the section were
construed in the sense that the supply should have been " enjoyed "
at some time in the remote past, that is, before the Act was enforced, the act
of the landlord, when it was committed, may not have been penal; but the same
act would become penal on the coming into effect of the Act. In that sense, it
would amount to ex post facto legislation, and we cannot accede to the argument
that such was the intention of the Legislature-an intention which would come
within the prohibition of Art. 20 (1) of the Constitution.
But it has been said that the expression
"enjoyed by the tenant " in s. 24, does not necessarily mean that the
tenant should have physically made use of the essential supply, and that the
requirements of the section are satisfied if the tenant had the right vested in
him to call for such a supply. In other words, the argument is that the word
" enjoyed " does not import physical use of the amenity in question,
but 1400 the juridical aspect of it in the sense that the supply of the water,
was one of the rights vested in the tenant. On this construction, if the tenant
had, as in this case the first respondent had, the right to enjoy the supply of
water, that would amount to her having " enjoyed the supply, and, thus,
both the requirements of s. 24 would be fulfilled. In our opinion, it would be
straining the language of the section to say that" enjoyed" should
mean " had the right to enjoy ". If that was the intention of the
Legislature, those words would have been different. That this was not the
intention of the Legislature, becomes clear on an examination of the terms of
sub.s. (3) of that section. It speaks of " the tenant has been in
enjoyment of the essential supply or service and that it was cut off or
withheld by the landlord " which imports recent " enjoyment"
until the supply was cut off, and not "enjoyment" in the remote past.
If the intention was that "enjoyment" should have been at any time in
the past, irrespective of the consideration when the Act came into force, the
Legislature would have used some other words to indicate that intention, even
assuming that the Legislature could have done so. But it was suggested that
sub-s. (1) of s. 24, was self contained, and that it was not necessary to
construe its terms in the light of the provisions of sub-ss. (2) and (3) which
go together. But it is clear from the terms of sub-s.
(2) that it cannot come into operation
without the landlord having contravened the provisions of sub-s. (1).
Therefore, the provisions of s. 24 have to be construed as a whole, in order to
find out the true intention of the Legislature.
It, may also be pointed out that it is
doubtful whether, before the second explanation was inserted into the section,
as aforesaid, in 1953, the cutting off of the water supply by the Municipality,
or the omission of the landlord to take steps to have the connection restored,
would have come within the mischief of the penal section. Supposing the second
explanation was not there, could the prosecution attribute the cutting off of
the connection by the Municipality, and the subsequent refusal of the landlord
1401 to get the connection restored, as an act or omission of the landlord
within the meaning of s. 24 (1) ? It has got to be remembered that the
provisions of s. 24 are meant to be an additional guarantee to the tenant, of
his continued enjoyment of the rights created in his favour by the contract of
tenancy apart from his rights under the general law. The landlord could not
only be penalized for having interrupted the enjoyment of any one of these
essential rights, the tenant could approach the court under sub-ss. (2) and (3)
of the section, to issue a mandate to the landlord to restore the supply or the
service before a specified date, the infringement of which would entail the
liability to recurring fines until the mandate had been carried out by the
landlord. These are provisions of an exceptional character, meant to be in
force for a specified period during which the Legislature thought it advisable
and expedient to provide for such extraordinary remedies. Such remedies which
are inroads upon the landlord's freedom of action, have to be construed
strictly in accordance with the words actually used by the Legislature, and
they cannot be given an extended meaning.
In view of these considerations, it must be
held that the complainant-the first respondent-has not shown that she had
enjoyed the amenity of the supply of tap water from the Municipality at any
time after the Act came into force, and as that is one of the two essential
conditions for the application of the section, it must be held that the offence
under s. 24 (1) of the Act, has not been brought home to the appellant. The
appeal is, accordingly, allowed, and the conviction and sentence are set aside.