Harbhajjan Singh v. State of Punjab

Harbhajjan Singh v. State of Punjab


In the Supreme Court of India
[Civil Appellate Jurisdiction]

Harbhajjan Singh

State of Punjab
Date of Judgement
4th December 2019

1. NV Ramana

2. Sanjiv Khanna
3. Krishna Murari

Facts of the Case

This appeal against the impugned Judgment passed by the High Court of Punjab and Haryana, which dismissed the writ petition challenging the vires of the Punjab Religious Premises and Land (Eviction and Rent Recovery) Act, 1997 (Religious Premises Act,(forshort).

The appellants were tenants in a shop located in a Gurudwara, though they were inducted as tenants there was no formal agreement signed regarding the same. Later the management of the Gurudwara came in the hands of a higher committee, and the appellants were brought under their control, though the appellants used to pay the rents to the committee but no receipts or formal agreement was given to them. 

In 1997, the committee filed an eviction petition against one of the appellants, Harbhajan Singh, under Section 13 of the East Punjab Urban Rent Restriction Act, 1949( the east Punjab Act for short) on the ground of failure to pay the rent and that the committee needed the space for the construction. Thereafter the appellant paid the sum but the matter was still pending. In 1998, the Religious Premises Act was enforced, and thereby introduced a summary procedure for evicting unauthorised occupants from the premises/property belonging to the religious institutions. Thereafter, the committee filed ejectment petitions under the Religious Premises Act before the Collector for eviction of the appellants stating that the appellants were in unauthorised occupation. The appellant filed a writ petition before the High Court challenging the RP act on the grounds that the provision creates an unintelligible classification to the disadvantage of the tenants who are otherwise entitled to equal protection as other tenants under the East Punjab Rent Act, however the same was rejected by the High Court, aggrieved by the decision the appellant challenged the decision before the Supreme Court.


Whether the impugned Act violates article 14 of the Constitution, and hence liable to be struck down?

Arguments Advanced

Appellant’s arguments

1. The appellant contended that as tenants they are entitled to protection against eviction under the East Punjab Rent Act, which protection as submitted by the appellant cannotbe withdrawn and taken away under the Religious Premises Act.

2. The explanation in 3(a) of the RP act states that mere payment of rent by the tenant who is in unauthorised occupation shall not raise any presumption that such person had entered into possession as an allottee, lessee or under a grant. The appellant contended that this proviso is highly unjust and unfair as a tenant who has been paying rent over a long period cannot be deemed to be an unauthorized occupant due to the termination of the lease, licence or grant, or the time stipulated in the lease, license or grant has come to an end.

3. The Religious Premises Act creates an artificial classification as tenants of land and buildings belonging to or owned by religious institutions are no longer entitled to protection under the East Punjab Rent Actthough such protection continues to be available to other tenants.

4. The reason given by the committee for the construction and the expansion is not a justifiable reason and that there is no public purpose being fulfilled by the RP act, hence should be declared as unconstitutional.

Respondent’s Contentions

1. That the state legislature is competent to enact a legislation governing the tenant owner relation in the religious premises, even though two Acts exist governing the same ( transfer of property act 1882 and the East Punjab act), The Constitution confers the power and authority to the State to enact two separate enactments on a similar subject if they seek to achieve different objectives and protect and preserve different sets of rights and make necessary classification to serve such varied ends.

2. Explanation to Section 3 states that for the purpose of clause (a), which makes the term of allotment, lease or grant as a basis for determining whether a person is in authorised or unauthorised occupation, shall not be affected by the mere reason or the fact that such person has paid rent and, therefore, is deemed to have entered into possession as an allottee, lessee or guarantee. In other words, payment of rent would not be a determinative and relevant factor in deciding the issue and question of unauthorised occupation. The tenure of allotment, lease or the grant and terms and conditions as agreed or stated,and not mere payment of rent would be the crucial and determinative criterion.

3. There are many procedural safeguards available in the Act which gives the protection to the person who has to be evicted and hence cannot be challenged as unfair or arbitrary.

4. The issue of whether the properties of the religious institutions for the purpose of rent control legislations can be treated as a separate category is no longer res integra as this aspect was examined in several decisions where this Court has held that separate classification of properties of religious institutions for rent legislations will pass a challenge under Article 14 of the Constitution, the support was taken from State ofAndhra Pradesh and Others v. Nallamilli Rami Reddi.


The Supreme Court observed that charitable or religious institutions or endowments fall into a separate category and form a class by themselves. If that is so, tenants coming under them also form aseparate class. Therefore, they can be treated differently from others. The court also observed that there have been number of central and state legislations wherein religious institutions with or without other charitable organization have been treated as a separate and distinct class andaccorded legal treatment concomitant to such distinctiveness within the scope of the same enactment or other enactments. {See Sections 11 and 115BBC, the Income Tax Act, 1961; Karnataka Rent Act, 1999 and Karnataka Hindu Religious Institutions and Charitable Endowments Act, 1997).

The court relied on the judgment in Kandaswamy S Chettiar v. State of Tamil Nadu and wherein challenge was made to the exemption granted to buildings owned by Hindu, Christian and Muslim religious public trusts and public charitable trusts from the provisions of the Tamil Nadu Buildings (Leaseand Rent Control) Act, 1960, by delegated legislation, in the form of an exemption notification under the Act. The bench in this judgment referred to PJ Irani v. State of Madras where the constitutionality of a similar enactment was upheld in the context of Article 14 of the Constitution ofIndia on the basis that the Preamble and operative provisions of that Act gave sufficient guidance forexercise of discretionary power vested with the State Government.

The court observed that the State Government on materials before it came to the conclusion that the fair rent fixed under the Act was unjust in case of such buildings and it was necessary to permit the trustees of such buildings to recover from their tenants reasonable market rent and if that be so non-eviction when reasonable market rent is not paid would be unreasonable and if the market rent is paid by the tenants no trustee is going to evict them. It is, therefore, granting total exemption cannot be regarded as excessive or unwarranted.

The court also relied on the fact that, the religious institutions due to a number of reasons want the expansion of the premises which requires the effort of new constructions and demolition of the old one, and as a result eviction of the tenants become necessary, for carrying out the purpose, state Government may have felt that the trustees of such buildings should be able to effect evictions without beingrequired to fulfil other onerous conditions which must be complied with by private landlords when they seek evictions for such purposes. And therefore the act is completely justified.

The apex court finally observed that valid grants, leases and allotments are not construed and treated as unauthorised occupation. It is only when the terms of the grant, lease or allotment are not adhered to or have been determined or the period of allotment, lease or grant as fixed has come to an end,that the person in occupation is treated to be in unauthorised occupation. This is a precondition which confers the right on the religious institution to seek eviction of a person in unauthorised occupation of the religious premises. Further, an order passed by the Collector is appealable before the Commissioner and if still aggrieved, a tenant can invoke the writ jurisdiction of the High Court,as mentioned above. Therefore, power of judicial review is always available and can be exercised by the High Court when required and necessary; on the basis of these reasoning the court upheld the judgment of the High Court and regarded the RP act as constitutional.

Ratio Decidendi

Separate classification in favor of properties or premises of religious institutions for rent laws is not violative of article 14 of the constitution.

Edited by Sree Ramya

Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje 


  • State of Andhra Pradesh and Others v. Nallamilli Rami Reddi (2001) 7 SCC 708.
  • Kandaswamy S Chettiar v. State of Tamil Nadu, AIR 1985 SC 257.
  • PJ Irani v. State of Madras, AIR 1985 SC 257.
Jyotiranjan Mallick
Hi! I am Jyotiranjan Mallick, currently pursuing BA.LL.B(Hons) from National law institute University, Bhopal. My areas of interest are IPR, constitutional law, criminal law and non law subjects like criminology, finance and economics also fascinates me. I like research and writing on various topics, and apart from it I am an avid gamer, and love to watch documentaries.