New Delhi, April 2, 2022: The Supreme Court has brought to an end “a frustrating legal marathon” spread over a period of 38 years by confirming orders of eviction passed with regard to litigation initiated in the year 1984.
The proceedings pertaining to eviction of unauthorised occupants of plots located in Dhanbad district of Jharkhand resulted in the eviction orders being passed and challenged in subsequent higher courts from the year 1984 to 2015, and now the present appeal before the Apex Court by M/s Bharat Coking Coal Ltd against the respondents Bhatia brothers and others.
A Bench comprising Justices Hemant Gupta and V Ramasubramanian observed that: “The only question which the Estate Officer, the District Court and the High Court dabbled with, was as to whether the property in the occupation of the respondents and their predecessor in interest was covered by the definition of the expression “mine” in Section 2(h) of the Nationalisation Act.”
“What was contemplated to be a summary proceeding for the eviction of unauthorized occupants from public premises under the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1971, having turned out to be a frustrating legal marathon spread over a period of 38 years, eventually culminating in the High Court setting aside the orders of eviction passed under the Act, the Government Company which initiated the proceedings way back in 1984, has come up with the above appeal,” the Bench noted.
The proceedings, initiated by the Estate Officer, Dhanbad in 1984 under the Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act, 1973, against Bhatia brothers and others, on the ground that they were unauthorised occupants of plots located in Dhanbad district, culminated in an order of eviction dated September 18, 1985.
This order was set aside by the District Court, Dhanbad in an appeal under Section 9 of the above Act, by an order dated December 4, 1986 and the matter was remanded back to the Estate Officer.
The Estate Officer passed a fresh order in March, 1989 dropping the eviction proceedings on the ground that the respondents were authorized occupants, but the said order was set aside by the District Court in 1990 in an appeal filed under Section 9 of the Act. This order of the District Court was then set aside by the High Court in 1998 in a writ petition filed by the respondents and the matter got back to the District Court by way of remand for a fresh disposal.
The District Court passed an order in the year 2000 allowing the appeal of the appellant herein and directing eviction. This order of the District Court was set aside by a learned Single Judge of the High Court by an order passed in 2013 in a writ petition filed by the respondents. The said order of the learned Single Judge was confirmed by the Division Bench in an intracourt appeal by judgment dated February 19, 2015, which is what was impugned before the Apex Court in the present appeal.
In its order dated April 1, 2022, the Bench observed that “the objection raised by the respondents to the proceedings under the Act was that the property was a private property, not forming part of a “mine”. Reliance was also placed upon the Report of the Court Commissioner, according to which there was no mark of any colliery in the disputed land and that there was a two storey building on the disputed plot, with Godhur Colliery being located 3 Kilometers away”.
The Apex Court delved into the scope of the definition of “mine” in Section 2(h) of the Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act, 1973.
“The definition of the expression “mine” under Section 2(h) of the Nationalisation Act, is very wide,” the Bench noted.
The Apex Court referred to its decision in Bharat Coking Coal Ltd. v. Madanlal Agrawal wherein it was clarified that the extended meaning given to the word “mine” was to ensure that the activity of mining coal could be carried on in an uninterrupted fashion.
The Bench held that “the respondents cannot now rely upon the Report of a Court Commissioner who carried out inspection probably after two/three decades of nationalization”.
It further said that “the impugned orders of the High Court run contrary to the statutory prescriptions and hence liable to be set aside. Accordingly, the appeal is allowed, the impugned orders of the High Court are set aside and the writ petition filed by the respondents is dismissed. The order of eviction shall stand confirmed.”