Amendments to pleadings must be sought within reasonable time; Such applications should not be used to stall Trial: Delhi High Court


Read Judgment: Digamber Jain Mahila Ashram V. Union of India & Ors. 

Pankaj Bajpai

New Delhi, March 14, 2022: While hearing the sustainability of an order in terms of which the Estate Officer ceased of proceedings initiated u/s 4 of the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorized Occupants) Act, 1971 for amendment and for the issuance of interrogatories, the Delhi High Court recently opined that amendments to pleadings must be sought within a reasonable time and at least not sought to be introduced so as to stall the trial itself. 

The Single Judge Yashwant Varma observed that it is not the case of the applicant petitioner that the grounds sought to be introduced were either unavailable at the time when a response was originally filed or sprung into existence on account of subsequent events. 

It is this aspect which appears to have weighed upon the Estate Officer while proceeding to reject the application under Order VI Rule 17 of the CPC, added the Single Judge.

Going by the background of the case, proceedings before the Estate Officer were instituted in 2001 consequent to the cancellation of the lease granted in favour of Digamber Ashram (petitioner) by the Union of India (respondents). Thereafter, an application under Order VI Rule 17 and Order XI of CPC came to be preferred, which was rejected by the Estate Officer observing that the application for amendment was not maintainable since it was filed after the matter had been posted for evidence. The application for issuance of interrogatories met with a similar fate with the Estate Officer observing that the same was not in the format prescribed under the CPC and that in any case, the application lacked bonafide and appeared to have been made only to delay the disposal of the main case.  

After considering the submissions, the High Court observed that while it is true that principles underlying the provisions of the CPC may be adopted and may also guide the exercise of power by the Estate Officer, undisputedly, they have no strict application.

Taking consideration the spirit of the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorized Occupants) Act, 1971, which mandates and envisages proceedings for eviction of unauthorized occupants from public premises to be concluded with expedition, Justice Varma found that the Legislature has chosen not to burden the procedure to be followed by the Estate Officer to be guided by the procedure which may otherwise apply to trials and stand strictly governed by the provisions of the CPC.

In any case and if it be the case of the petitioner that there was no termination of the lease in accordance with law, it is always open for them to urge those and all other grounds contemplated to be taken in challenge to the proceedings initiated before the Estate Officer, added the Single Judge. 

Ultimately, Justice Varma highlighted that if the petitioner were able to substantiate its objection in this respect and cross the rubicon recognized under the Act, the onus would clearly shift upon the respondents.

The challenge in essence which constituted part of the application for amendment was that a grant which is made under the 1895 Act cannot be subjected to question in proceedings under the Act and nor can any orders of eviction be framed in respect of those grants, added the Single Judge.  

The High Court notes that the factum of the amendment having been moved only after the matter had been posted for evidence appears to be clearly justified and germane to the exercise of power by the Estate Officer.

The High Court therefore concluded that the grounds urged in challenge to the order passed by the Estate Officer do not warrant interference at the interim stage the effect of which would be to short circuit the proceedings itself.

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