The occupants of three shops at Jam Mill in Lalbaug were evicted by officials of the National Textile Corporation (NTC), the owner of the land, after the Supreme Court (SC) order allowed the central government-owned entity to “take forcible possession with the help of police force”. The development comes after NTC had filed a contempt petition for non-compliance of an older order, which had directed the shop owners to comply with the eviction notice sent by NTC in the year 2000.
There are 23 shops at Jam Mill, which were issued eviction notices under the provisions of the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1971, by NTC saying they were illegal occupants of the premises. While four shopkeepers approached SC, the case pertaining to 19 other shops is pending in the Bombay high court.
Following a long legal battle in the lower courts and HC, they failed to get a judgment in their favour and then appealed to SC, which ruled in favour of NTC in 2017. The Apex court also gave the tenants time till March 2018 to vacate the premises, failing which they would be held in contempt of the court.
The shopkeepers who were evicted on Friday said they have been the original tenants of the previous property, which was taken over by the Centre in 1983. The building has shops on the ground floor facing the road and 350 residential premises on the top two floors. The shopkeepers, who are also residents of the building produced licence agreements made with the previous owners of the land as early as 1939.
Amit Mehta, whose family owns one of the three shops evicted on Friday, said, “We’ve been the tenants in this property for over 80 years. After NTC took over it in 1983, they increased the rent exponentially, thrice. In 2000, they increased the rent to Rs13,500 per month. We tried to negotiate with them, but were issued an eviction notice. This shop is our livelihood, which is being taken away from us.”
Advocate Nimesh Mehta, who represented the Jam Mill tenants in SC, said, “These are the original tenants of the property, and the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1971, does not apply to original tenants, as per the guidelines issued by the Centre in a gazette in 2002, and the state’s government resolutions (GRs).” The gazetted document provided by Mehta stated: “The provision of PP(E) Act 1971 should not be resorted to either with commercial motive or to secure vacant possession of the premises in order to accommodate their own employees, where premises were in occupation of the original tenants to whom the premises were let either by the public authorities or the persons from whom the premises were acquired.”
“The tenants filed a curative petition in SC on January 9, which is ongoing. Meanwhile, NTC filed a contempt petition, and the court ruled in their favour on Friday. SC also issued non-bailable warrants for these tenants to remain present in court. We are seeking attention of the court on how can senior citizens from Mumbai be expected to remain present in the court at New Delhi during a pandemic?” said Mehta, who is also the vice-president of the public sector tenants action committee.
Saurabh Tiwari, the legal manager for NTC who was present at the site on Friday afternoon, said he was not authorised to comment on the matter, while NTC’s public relations officer Arun Dange was unavailable for comment.
Legal opinion is divided on the impact the decision will have on all the tenants of public sector undertakings (PSUs) across Mumbai.
Mehta has opined that the Apex court decision will pave the way for PSUs to evict their tenants on the basis of the provisions of the PP(E) Act 1971. He said, “The PP(E) Act is draconian. In Mumbai city, there are 12 lakh tenants on public sector undertakings, whose fate rests in balance.”
However, senior advocate Prasad Dhakephalkar said the SC order will be applicable on a case-by-case basis.
“This will depend on the facts of each case. There are instances where the PP(E) Act will apply to tenants. Whether the PP(E) Act will apply to each matter henceforth depend on the facts of each case,” he said.