Shantistar Builders v. Narayan Khimalal Totame

Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes

Bench

  1. Justice Ranganath Misra
  2. Justice P. Sawant
  3. Justice K. Ramaswamy

Parties

Petitioner- M/s Shantistar Builders 

Respondent- Narayan Khimalal Totame & Ors

Introduction

“Every man has a right to life, and this means that he also has a right to make a comfortable living.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Have you ever thought about the importance of our Constitution? Does it have any significance in our lives? Have we ever tried to find out that the rights that are guaranteed by our Constitution can be useful? How much equality do these fundamental rights try to bring to our country? 

The right to life and personal liberty[1] guaranteed by our Constitution is gigantic and embraces other rights like right to food, right to shelter, right against sexual assault, right to a clean environment, and many other facets. 

The right to shelter is a fundamental right that guarantees every person a reasonably comfortable accommodation, while the right to food means to make every person accessible to meals such that they are free from starvation to maintain life and growth. These are some of the basic rights that are available to every individual on this earth and cannot be denied under any circumstances. Our constitution aims at ensuring the full development of every citizen.  

This case of Shantistar Builders v. Narayan Khimala Totame[2] revolves around the right to shelter as a part of fundamental rights and the enactment of the Urban Land (Ceiling & Regulation) Act, 1976 in which the State was empowered to take the vacant land over the ceiling limit to provide houses for the weaker sections of the society. Let us now look upon the facts of the case.  

Facts of the Case

The case is a writ petition filed by the petitioner before the High Court of Bombay under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, challenging the permission granted to certain builders to increase the prices of construction on the land exempted by the Urban Land (Ceiling & Regulation) Act, 1976. However, the State of Maharashtra was considering certain guidelines under Section 20 of the said Act in respect to construction over exempted lands. The Act considerably divided the agglomerations into four classes and prescribed a ceiling for each class. Section 10 of the said Act provides that vacant land which was in excess with the ceiling and vested in the State by way of acquisition and the vacant sites that were acquired by the State to be utilized for housing. Further Section 23 and Section 24 of the said Act provides for the disposal of vacant land.  Thus, the major purpose of the Act was to take away the excess land from the holders and utilize it for the purpose of housing and other public purposes. 

The respondents in the case, that is, Narayan Khimala, filed an application to make some changes in the allegations made in the writ petition. However, on December 16, 1988, the Bombay High Court dismissed the writ petition on the ground that the claims were unnecessary due to the changes in the policies made by the government. The Court added that there was no need to make further amendments as the resolutions were already issued to the government. 

Aggrieved by this decision, the petitioner, that is, M/s Shantistar Builders challenged the decision of the High Court by filing an appeal. 

Issues of the Case

The case involved the following issues in the case:

  • Whether the provisions of the Urban Land (Ceiling & Regulation) Act, 1976 violative or not?
  • Whether the increase in price permitted by the State Government to the builder is excessive and not warranted?

Provisions and Statutes Involved

  1. Section 10 of the Urban Land (Ceiling & Regulation) Act, 1976
  2. Section 20 of the Urban Land (Ceiling & Regulation) Act, 1976
  3. Section 23 of the Urban Land (Ceiling & Regulation) Act, 1976
  4. Section 24 of the Urban Land (Ceiling & Regulation) Act, 1976
  5. Article 226 of the Constitution of India, 1950
  6. Right to Shelter, a facet under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, 1950

Arguments on behalf of the Respondents

The respondents contended the following points:

  1. That there was a breach of conditions imposed in the exemption order, stating that the weaker sections were not being attended and a big racket had been formed by the real estate people to eliminate the economically weaker sections who were in need of housing accommodations and they make an unauthorized profit out of such transactions. 
  2. That the main object of addressing the need for weaker sections is being ignored.
  3. That the increase in prices of real estate and the ignorance of such breaches fails the purpose of the Act. 
  4. That the applications by the economically weaker sections who are in dire need of accommodations are being overlooked. 
  5. That the High Court failed to consider the factual details of the case and simply proceeded with the guidelines while dealing with the petition. 
  6. That the claims by the respondents for the allotment of premises has been overlooked though they approached earlier in time.  

Judgment of the Case

On January 31, 1990, the Apex Court passed the judgment. The Apex Court cognized the arguments raised by the respondents and considered the profundity of the case and alleged mala fide. The Court expressed that for the claims that are found tenable, the builders shall be issued a direction to provide accommodation in consideration of the scheme for those who are found to be reasonable. The Court further ordered the builders not to make any commitments or allotment of flats until the claims of the 1420 entitled claimants were settled. 

The Court directed the Government to comply with the order of constituting the committee within 30 days from the passing of the order.

The Court stated that the right to life is guaranteed in a civilized society. The rights and duties go parallel as the right to one becomes the duty of the other. The State is obliged to take reasonable measures and also fulfills the necessities which will assist the people to live with human dignity. Also, Article 47 The Constitution of India puts an obligation on the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standards of living and states that the primary duty of a State is the welfare of the people. Further, Article 39 (a) of the Constitution provides rules and directions to the state in making policies towards securing the citizens as they should have an adequate means of livelihood. 

The Court scrutinized the guidelines produced by the Government of Maharashtra and the guidelines were discussed in the form of a preamble and other provisions.

Preamble

  • The preamble recognized that the authority has to monitor the implementation of housing schemes of the weaker sections, sanctioned under Section 20 and 21 of the said Act. 
  • The authorities under a duty to ensure that the construction must complete within the given time frame mentioned in the order.
  • The construction shall be in adherence to the terms and conditions laid down in the exemption order such as the sales price, eligibility for purchase, and other conditions of local construction. 
  • The Maharashtra Government has directed all its resources towards the effective implementation of the scheme.   

Court’s Comments on the Guidelines

The Court stated the following points:

  • The allotment of flats must be done on a ‘one-family basis’. Any family who is already owning a flat in any urban agglomeration shall not be eligible for the benefits of the housing scheme.
  • The Government can nominate some families with a limit of 5% to be eligible for the benefits of the scheme. These families shall belong to weaker sections and the ‘one family-one flat’ rule must apply to them as well. 
  • The builder must maintain a register of applicants and the register shall be maintained and updated. Further, all the necessary details must be mentioned in the register and its copy must be sent to the authorities.
  • A rule called ‘means test’ was formulated for the identification of weaker sections. As per this rule, the income of any family to be eligible for the scheme should not exceed Rs. 18,000/-. Also, the State Government can summon the family or its members to verify their annual income. 
  • The committee shall be provided with the power to direct the builders and applicants for the implementation of the scheme with the power to examine the documents. 
  • The Court directed the Bombay High Court that they should avail a judicial officer, not below the rank of an Additional District Judge to discharge the duties of the chairman.
  • The Apex Court further commented on the purpose of the committee by stating that their primary purpose was to ensure that weaker sections or people in need of housing should get accommodation. 

Analysis of the Judgment

The Hon’ble Supreme Court, in this case, gave certain direction. The Court highlighted the purpose of the said Act and directed to form a committee for supervising such projects. The court accurately laid down the guidelines for the committee and certain measures to impress upon every committee that the purpose of providing a home to the poor homeless is contingent on its commitment to the goal and every endeavor should be made by it to ensure that the builder does not succeed in frustrating the purpose. 

The judgment was appreciable and was later quoted by the Supreme Court in the following cases:

  1.  Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation v. Nawab Khan Gulab Khan & Ors[3]– In this case, the court stated that the State has a duty to construct accommodations at reasonable rates and thus, gives meaning to the right to life. 
  2. Chameli Singh v. State of UP & Anr[4]– In this case, the Apex Court elaborated the definition of ‘Shelter’. In this case, a three-judge bench held that the right to shelter is a fundamental right available to every citizen and it is encompassed within Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The Court further observed that the right to shelter includes adequate living space, clean and decent surroundings, pure air and water, and other civic amenities like roads. 

Thus, the Hon’ble Supreme Court was efficient in delivering this judgment by looking at most of the aspects of the case. The court not only gave importance to the instant case but also decided to direct other State Governments to formulate policies recognizing the right of proper and reasonable accommodations for every person, keeping in mind the future scenarios and saving crucial time from dealing with similar issues in the Apex Court. 

Conclusion

“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice and the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.”

Nelson Mandela

In a country like India, where the majority of the population belongs to rural areas and wealth is endowed with only 2-3% of the financial holders, it is anticipated that the most valuable thing one owns is shelter over their head. This shelter is taken as a dignified shield for a human being. In India, the judiciary has played a significant role in upholding the weaker sections of our society by providing them their rights so that they are not left behind in terms of fundamental rights at least. The shelter is not only a means to a roof over one’s head or mere protection of life and property, but also where a person can grow physically, mentally, and intellectually. The right to shelter is a fundamental right and the State has a duty to provide houses to every individual in the country. Thus, the fundamental right to shelter is a primary necessity guaranteed under the right to life and personal liberty and is deliberately incorporated as a human right by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 


[1] The Constitution of India, 1950, Article 21.

[2] AIR 1990 SC 630.

[3] (1997) 11 SCC 123.

[4] (1996) 2 SCC 549.

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