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A tenant occupying a commercial premises is no different than the one who lives in a rented house and can be evicted by the landlord under the Delhi Rent Control Act, the Supreme Court has ruled. The judgement, which may pave the way for reducing property dispute-related litigation, assumes significance as until now only a tenant occupying residential premises could be evicted by the landlord if the latter wanted to use the premises for his own family. Whereas, under Section 14(1) (e) of the Delhi Rent Control Act eviction of a tenant occupying a commercial premises by the landlord is barred. But the Supreme Court has now ruled that such classification of tenants on the basis of their residential and commercial occupation was discriminatory and violative of Article 14 (equality before law). "Section 14(1) (e) of the 1958 Act is violative of the doctrine of equality embodied in Article 14 of the Constitution of India insofar as it discriminates between the premises let for residential and non-residential purposes when the same are required bona fide by the landlord for occupation of himself or for any member of his family dependent," a bench of Justices B N Aggrawal and G S Singhvi has observed. The apex court passed the ruling while upholding the appeal filed by the legal heirs of a woman Satyawati Sharma, challenging the decision of a Full Bench of the Delhi High Court which had taken a contrary view on the issue. The full bench of the High Court relying upon its earlier judgements in the H.C Sharma Vs LIC and Amarjit Singh Vs Kahatoon Quamarin cases took the view that the proviso barring the eviction of a tenant occupying commercial premises was not unconstitutional. In the said two cases, the High Court had reasoned that the proviso was not unconstitutional as it was intended to prevent unauthorised eviction of tenants most of whom came from Pakistan after the partition when Delhi was facing an acute accommodation problem. However, the apex court has now taken the view that since 50 years had lapsed after the enactment of the legislation the proviso needs to be reconsidered in the light of the changing situation in the Capital. "As of now a period of almost 50 years has elapsed from the enactment of the 1958 Act. During this long span of time much water has flown down the Ganges. Those who came from West Pakistan as refugees and even their next generation have settled down in different parts of the country more particularly in Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and surrounding areas. "They are occupying prime positions in political and bureaucratic set up of the Government and have earned huge wealth in different trades, occupation, business and similar ventures," the apex court observed. The bench said a legislation which may be quite reasonable and rationale at the time of its enactment may, with the lapse of time, and due to change of circumstances become arbitrary, unreasonable and violative of the doctrine of equity. "And even if the validity of such legislation may have been upheld at a given point of time, the court may, in subsequent litigation strike down the same if it is found that the rationale of classification has become non-existent," the apex court observed. Accordingly, the apex court said that Section 14 (1) (e) of the 1958 Act is violative of the doctrine of equality embodied in Article 14 of the Constitution. However, the bench clarified that it was not striking down entirely the proviso of the section but only that particular portion of the section which discriminates between the two groups of tenants. In other words, the court held that a commercial tenant can be evicted provided the said premises is required bona fide by the landlord for himself or for any member of his family dependent on him.
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