Municipal Council, Ratlam v. Shri Vardhichand & Others

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Facts of the Case

Ratlam Municipal council has clearly spelt out obligations to provide sanitary facilities and prevent street contamination from a nearby alcohol plant[1]. Hence, frustrated at the lack of sanitary facilities and contamination in the streets, an action was brought against the municipal council for public nuisance[2].

The Municipal council however stated that the residents chose to live where there are no facilities and that the authorities lacked the funds necessary to construct what was required to comply.

The municipal councils were ordered by the Magistrate court to provide proper facilities and construct drainpipes to abate the contamination. On appeal, the order was affirmed. The Supreme Court in giving its judgment considered whether a court could compel a statutory body to construct sanitary facilities and drainpipes. Having done that, the Supreme Court held that the magistrate had the power to compel a statutory body to comply with the order in the name of public duty. According to the Supreme Court, section 133 of the Criminal Procedure Code operates against statutory bodies and can be used to remove a public nuisance in a limited time period.

Issues for Court’s Determination and Analysis

  • Whether or not there was an undertaking on Ratlam Municipal council’ s part to perform such obligation.
  • Whether such an obligation was breached and can be enforced against Ratlam Municipality.
  • Whether Public nuisance applies for consenting residents and warrants criminal actions

The Concept of Public Nuisance

The concept of nuisance on its own is one which interferes with the use and enjoyment of one’s property.

According to the Indian Penal Code[3], it has been posited that to constitute public nuisance, the injury, danger or annoyance must be done to the public, or to the people in the vicinity or to persons who may have occasion to exercise any public right.

Having established that fact, public nuisance simply put, is a form of discomfort or inconvenience caused to members of the public and affected by members of the public. Public here includes any class of the community, sufficiently enough to be called the public.[4]

Note that two or three persons affected by a form of inconvenience cannot be classified as the Public. According to the latter part of section 133 of the Criminal Procedure Code, a public place includes property belonging to the state, camping grounds and grounds left occupied for sanitary or recreative purposes.

Public nuisance is an unreasonable, unwarranted or unlawful interference with a right common to the general public. The public must be affected in a manner specifically prohibited by the law. The law in question is any state or city laws to which it applies.

In Vasant Manga Nikumba & Ors v. Baburao Bhikanna Naidu & Ors[5], the Supreme Court defined Public Nuisance as;

Any inconvenience materially interfering with the ordinary comfort of human existence”.

Now the question that comes to mind is, is Public Nuisance a crime and can an action be brought against public nuisance on grounds of the Criminal Procedure code?[6]

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The Indian Penal Code makes a strong recourse in answering this question.  It posits;

a person is guilty of a public nuisance who does any act or is guilty of an illegal omission which causes any common injury, danger, or annoyance to the public or to the people in general who dwell or occupy property in the vicinity, or which must necessarily cause injury, obstruction, danger or annoyance to persons who may have occasion to use any public right……………..”[7]

Public nuisance unlike Private nuisance which is a civil wrong is a crime and cannot be tried by an individual unless such person can prove special damages. For instance, sustaining an injury on a public road. Hence, an action by the state can occur.

The Position of Duty/ Obligation on Ratlam Municipality’s Part

By virtue of the Municipality Act and the duty it imposes, the Municipal officer have a duty to make adequate and reasonable provisions, on areas that includes cleaning public streets, removing noxious vegetation, and abating all public nuisance.[8]

Hence, it is not farfetched that Ratlam Municipality will be obliged to provide adequate sanitary facilities and prevent contamination.

Having also established public nuisance as being a crime, does the provision of the Criminal Procedure Code apply as a basis for an action for non-compliance with their obligations?

To invoke Section 133(1) (a) of the Criminal Procedure Code, it must be noted that to constitute a public nuisance, two factors are to be considered;

  • Such nuisance has to be public
  • It must literally affect the members of the public.

Section 133(1) of the Code thus provides;

“ whenever a District magistrate or a sub divisional magistrate or any executive magistrate specially empowered in this behalf by the state government on receiving the report of a police officer or other information and on taking such evidence(if any) as he thinks fit, considers;

That any unlawful obstruction or nuisance should be removed from any public place or from any way, river or channel which is or may be lawfully used by the public;

………..or, if he objects so to do, to appear before himself or some other executive magistrate subordinate to him at a time and place to be fixed by the order, and show cause why the order should not be made absolute”. 

While municipal authorities in this context may be compelled by the court to act within their purview and as stipulated by the state laws that governs them, consideration should be taken to factors to look out for in an alleged nuisance, one of which is; Whether or not you have come to the nuisance[9].

From the fact of the case, it is apparent that the residents resided in that community under its present conditions as it was, but relied on the suppositions of the Ratlam municipality on improving these conditions. So while fingers can be pointed at what and what not should have been done on the part of Ratlam, it is not farfetched to assert that by the residents allowing themselves stay in such degradable state, they consented to the lack thereof of storage facilities.

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A responsible municipal authority is constituted for purposes of preserving public health and providing better finances amongst others. Hence, having established the obligations imposed on the municipal council, it cannot and should not hide from its principal duty and its clearly misguided suppositions on financial inability as it serves no plausible basis in this regard. Where there is any contrary opinion, the Magistrate is within rights to enforce criminal actions and to compel enforcement.[10]

Also read Group Of Companies Doctrine and Indian laws

[1] Under Section 123 of the M.P Municipalities Act of 1961( M.P Act No. 37 of 1961)

[2] under Section 133 of the Criminal Procedure Code 1973 (Act No. 2 of 1974)

[3] Section 268 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860)

[4] Section 12 of the Indian penal code.

[5] 1996 SCC (Cri) 27

[6] Act No. 2 of 1974.  Note that the Criminal Procedure Code differs from the Indian Penal Code as the former is procedural while the latter is a substantive law.

[7] Section 268

[8] Section 123(1)(a) of the M. P Municipality Act 1961

Note that public property was greatly emphasized.

[9] When you move to a location where the alleged nuisance was ongoing.

[10] Note however that no fixed time for such order of enforcement was given. What is required is that such public duty be exercised.