Read Judgment: Estate Officer & Anr. vs. Charanjit Kaur

Pankaj Bajpai

New Delhi, September 13, 2021:The Supreme Court has held that the consumer forum under the Consumer Protection Act would not have jurisdiction to entertain the consumer complaints on the ground of deficiency in service related to transfer of title of the immovable property.

A Division Bench of Justice Hemant Gupta and Justice A.S Bopanna observed that since the respondents are already in possession of the sites as lessee on 99 years basis, it cannot be said that the appellant was deficient in providing any service, which even if used in a liberal sense would not include transfer of title in an immovable property.

It is not a case of the deficiency in service as contemplated by Consumer Act but definitely a case of exercise of jurisdiction in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner, added the Bench.

Accordingly, in exercise of the power conferred on this Court under Article 142, the Division Bench directed the Administration to decide the claim of conversion as on the date when consumer complaints were filed.

The background of the case was that the complainants had sought conversion of a Plot allotted by Chandigarh administration from leasehold to freehold site on acceptance of the requisite conversion fee, before the District Consumer Forum, which directed the Estate Officer under the Chandigarh administration for such conversion upon acceptance of requisite conversion fee.

The District Forum also directed to pay an amount of Rs. 10,000/- as compensation for mental agony and physical harassment, and to also pay Rs.5,000/- as costs of litigation.

Since the order of District Forum was affirmed by State and National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commissions, the Estate Officer approached the Apex Court questioning the findings recorded by the NCDRC that the complainants were consumers as charges had been paid for conversion.

The findings of NCDRC were contended to be not tenable, urging that the charges deposited were not for any services to be rendered but to grant complete title to the allottees.

The Apex Court found that though the Administration has done commendable work to maintain the character of Chandigarh as City Beautiful, but the Estate Office has underbelly, that is, the action of the officials cannot be said to be bona fide.

Stating that the present is a typical case of ‘you show me face, I will show the Rule’, the Top Court opined that the officers are unable to take decisions which are citizen friendly and no attempt is made to remove the bottlenecks in the working of the Estate Office.

While noting that many cases of alleged misuse have been initiated but not concluded by the Estate Office, the Division Bench opined that the residents of Chandigarh are widely harassed while seeking no-objection certificate for sale of leasehold property as the procedure for grant of no-objection certificate and of deposit of unearned increase is interpreted in different manners by the different officials, which the officers of the Administration has failed to control.

Another area of concern is the unreasonable procedure adopted by the Administration for affecting mutation after the demise of the leaseholder or the allottee and of completing other formalities at the offices of the appellant. The difficult and near impossible procedure leads to arbitrary and discriminatory action by the officials of the Estate Office, added the Bench.

Therefore, the Top Court directed the Administration to constitute a Committee which may include a Member of Parliament; an architect; an advocate, who is or has represented Chandigarh Administration before the High Court; two representatives of the Municipal Corporation being representatives of the citizens of Chandigarh, apart from such officers which the Administration may think fit, so as to review and streamline the processes of sanction of mutation, grant of occupancy certificate, no-objection certificate and other citizen-centric requirements including calculation of unearned profit under the 1973 Rules or under 2007 Rules.

Accordingly, the Apex Court set aside the orders passed by the DCDRF, SCDRC and the NCDRC, and directed the Administration to give details of the notices for resumption on account of alleged misuse which are pending consideration.

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