Supreme Court Of India

Dodda Rangara Rao V. R.V. Rambhupal Prasad

Contempt Petition (Civil) No. 82 Of 2003 (In Slp (Civil) No. 12382 Of 2002). 07-05-2004


1. Though the petitioner has sought for initiation of contempt proceedings against the respondent herein, complaining of breach of solemn undertaking furnished by the respondent before this Court, we made it clear to the learned counsel for the parties that it would be in the interest of both the parties to resolve the crux of the controversy and get rid of a long-drawn litigation, rather than indulge into side issues. The response of the learned counsel for the parties has been positive and the gesture shown by them deserves to be appreciated. We have afforded the parties the opportunity of filing affidavits, counter-affidavits and documents. The present order proposes to take care of the principal controversy since punishing for or discharging from contempt would not bring an end to the litigation a view point which the learned counsel for the parties have understood and appreciated.

2. For the sake of convenience, we would refer to Dodda Rangara Rao, the petitioner herein, as the 'landlord' and R.V. Rambhupal Prasad, the alleged contemnor, as the 'tenant'. The subject-matter of these proceedings are the premises bearing number D.No. 12-25-102 situated in the New Ward No. 8/235, Kothapet, Guntur, Andhra Pradesh. The premises are a cinema hall designed for the purpose of exhibiting drama or cinema. Admittedly, the landlord is the owner of the premises.

3. Sometime in the year 1992, and landlord initiated proceedings for the eviction of the tenant under Section 10 of the A.P. Buildings (Lease, Rent & Eviction ) Control Act, 1960. The Rent Controller, Guntur vide order dated June 24, 1996 upheld the landlord's claim for eviction and directed the tenant to hand-over vacant possession over the premises to the landlord. Out of the several averments made in the plaint, two of them are worth being referred to. The first averment is that in the year 1943 the landlord had let out the premises along with the cine equipment and furniture as mentioned in Schedule 'B' attached to the petition to late R.V. Satyanarayana Prasad, the senior paternal uncle of the tenant and possession of the building, equipment and furniture was delivered to the then lessee in the year 1943 itself. The initial lease was oral but subsequently a lease in writing was executed on 16.7.1944. There were other deeds also executed from time to time incorporating the terms and conditions of the lease. The lease was last renewed on 18.4.1950 when the then lessee executed a hand-written letter mentioning the list of articles, details of equipment besides the fixtures taken possession of by him. A rent of Rs. 340/- per month was fixed for the building (hall) while a sum of Rs. 410/- was fixed as rent for the equipment, fixtures etc. referred to in the Schedule attached with the petition. The second averment is that though the lessee was senior paternal uncle of the tenant, however, subsequent to the induction of the then lessee, initially the father of the tenant for some time, and later the tenant himself, began carrying on the business instead of the original lessee. The fact remains that the proceedings for eviction referred to hereinabove were initiated against the 'tenant' by treating him as the lessee in the year 1992 i.e. on the date of initiation of the eviction proceedings.

4. In the written statement filed on behalf of the tenant it was not disputed that the premises and the machinery etc. were leased out by the landlord. However, it was pleaded, inter alia - "The respondent tenant has been spending huge amounts for proper maintenance of the machinery and also for the furniture in good and proper condition, for enabling the respondent to satisfy the requirement of law for grant of licences by the concerned authorities from time to time." (para 8 of the written statement.)"?? the respondent has been spending large amounts from time to time to keep the machinery and premises and furniture in good condition." (para 14, of the written statement).

5. A perusal of the order of the Rent Controller dated June 24, 1996 shows the Rent Controller having not recorded any finding on the question of machinery, equipment, furniture and fixtures. He confined himself to recording the finding on the availability of ground for eviction. The tenant preferred an appeal which was dismissed on October 19, 2000 affirming the order of learned Rent Controller. Civil Revision No. 76 of 2001 also came to be dismissed by the High Court on January 23, 2002. The tenant preferred Special Leave Petition (C) No. 12382/2002 which too was dismissed on July 22, 2002 after hearing the landlord present in caveat. However, the tenant was allowed time till December 31, 2002 for vacating the premises subject to clearance of all the arrears of rent and filing the usual undertaking for delivering vacant and peaceful possession on or before 31st December, 2002. the undertaking was filed.

6. On February 5, 2003 the present petition has been filed seeking initiation of contempt proceedings submitting that the tenant has failed to deliver vacant possession over the premises and thereby committed a breach of undertaking filed in this Court. The tenant was noticed and he has filed reply. The facts relating to a new litigation have been revealed to this Court. Briefly stated, the facts are that on the tenant's appeal against the order of eviction having been dismissed by the Appellate Authority, the landlord filed Original Suit No. 343 of 2000 in the Court of Principal Senior Civil Judge, Guntur seeking the grant of permanent injunction restraining the defendant therein, i.e., tenant from removing, replacing, tempering or causing any damage to the properties mentioned in plaint - Schedule 'A' and 'B' properties. It appears that these plaint - Schedule 'A' and 'B' properties are the same as were mentioned in Schedules 'A' and 'B' annexed with the plaint filed in eviction proceedings. However, the copies of Schedules 'A' and 'B' are not available and a definite opinion thereon cannot be expressed. The fact remains that machinery, furniture and other equipments are mentioned in Schedules 'A' and 'B'. An application for the grant of ad-interim injunction was also filed. The plea taken by the tenant in his response filed before the learned Principal Senior Civil Judge, (as stated by the learned Civil Judge in his order dated March 19, 2004 is:-

"?? there is no need for him to remove the costly machinery, furniture and other equipments mentioned in `B' schedule. `B' Schedule moveables has no value at all. Admittedly, they relate back to 1943 and they were given to the earlier tenant R.V. Satyanarayana Prasad. In the afflux of time they lose their utility and became useless and they were dumped in a room which is under lock and key of the petitioner-plaintiff. The respondent is not aware as to how the petitioner-plaintiff dealt with the said articles. It is his further contention that the petitioner-plaintiff after having succeeded to the cinema theare in the family partition, the respondent spent Rs. 25 lakhs and modernized the Cine theatre in accordance with the latest licencing rules so as to continue to secure the licence to run the theatre. They all belong to him and the plaintiff cannot claim any rights over the same."

7. It appears that the substance of the plea taken by the tenant is that the furniture and machinery now installed and available in the building are owned by the tenant. The learned Civil Judge appointed a Commissioner to make an inventory of the machinery, equipment and furniture available in the building. He formed an opinion that the question as to who is the person entitled to machinery, equipment, furniture and fixtures was yet to be decided in the suit, on trial, and if the same was removed and taken away by the tenant, there would be multiplicity of proceedings and the landlord would suffer irreparably. The learned Judge directed the tenant "not to meddle with the property both moveable and immoveable, i.e., available in the premises as per the report of the Commissioner until further orders."

8. The dilemma of the tenant (the alleged contemnor) is clear. On the one hand, he has to honour the undertaking given before this Court and, on the other, he has also to honour the order of temporary injunction issued by the Trial Court. He cannot remove the machinery etc. assuming they belong to him and unless that is done, the possession over the premises cannot be delivered to the landlord.

9. The dispute as to the ownership and/or entitlement to the machinery, equipment, fixtures and furniture has not been so far adjudicated upon by any competent forum. Yet, it cannot be lost sight of that there were some machinery, furniture etc. available in the cinema hall at the commencement of the initial tenancy. May be, as the tenant is suggesting, in order to avail renewal of licence to run cinema house, the tenant was required to maintain and update the machinery, equipment, furniture and fittings without which the licence may not have been renewed. It cannot be ascertained, except on enquiry as to what has been newly added or replaced by the tenant and what was there as pre-existing though repaired and renovated. We are clearly of the opinion that the order for eviction passed by the learned Rent Controller and maintained upto this Court as also the solemn undertaking furnished by the tenant to this Court - both must be honoured and the issues raised subsequently should not come in the way thereof.

10. To protect the interests of both the parties as also to achieve the end indicated hereinabove, we dispose of the entire controversy in terms of the following directions:-

1. The original Suit No. 343/00 pending in the Court of Principal Senior Civil Judge, Guntur shall stand converted into an enquiry being held under the directions of this Court.

2. The order of injunction dated March 19, 2004 passed by the learned Principal Senior Civil Judge shall stand vacated.

3. The possession over the premises along with machinery, equipment, furniture and fixtures as available in the premises shall forthwith be delivered by the tenant to the landlord. Before doing so, the learned Civil Judge shall see whether the inventory already got prepared through Commissioner provides adequate details or not. If necessary, the Commissioner shall again be appointed on payment of fees no be borne equally by both the parties who shall prepare a fresh or supplementary inventory cataloguing and setting out the details of all the machinery, equipment, furniture, fixtures and fittings available in the premises. If necessary, photographs shall also be taken.

4. On possession having been delivered, the learned Civil Judge shall hold an enquiry on the following two points:-

(i) right, title and entitlement to take or retain possession, by the landlord or the tenant, of the items mentioned in the inventory;

(ii) in the event of the tenant being found entitled to take any of the items mentioned in the inventory, the value thereof on the date of delivery of possession;

5. If the learned Civil Judge finds that it was the landlord who was rightfully entitled to the items in the inventory, that shall be the end of the matter. In the event of the tenant being found entitled to all or any of the items as mentioned in the inventory, the value thereof as determined by the learned Civil Judge, in the enquiry to be held by him, by reference to the date of delivery of possession shall be directed to be paid by the landlord to the tenant.

6. Within four weeks from today but before the delivery of possession, the landlord shall file an undertaking before the learned Civil Judge that the landlord shall honour the order passed by the learned Civil Judge at the end of the enquiry and within the time appointed by the learned Civil Judge. The undertaking shall also be accompanied by a bank guarantee in an amount of Rs. 5 lakhs to satisfy the claim of the tenant in the event of an occasion arising for the purpose.

7. The enquiry shall be concluded expeditiously and as for as practicable within a period of six months from the date of delivery of possession. The enquiry shall be a summary enquiry and not a regular trial as in a civil suit. The learned Civil Judge shall comply only the principles of natural justice.

8. A copy of the final order passed by the learned judge disposing of the enquiry proceedings shall also be communicated to Registrar General of this Court.

11. In the light of the abovesaid order, we are not inclined to take cognizance of the contempt petition and the same be treated as dismissed.

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