M/S BHARAT COKING COAL LTD. VS MAHENDRA PAL BHATIA AND ORS.

M/S BHARAT COKING COAL LTD. VS MAHENDRA PAL BHATIA AND ORS.

Landmark Cases of India / सुप्रीम कोर्ट के ऐतिहासिक फैसले


REPORTABLE
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CIVIL APPEAL NO.5377 OF 2015
M/S BHARAT COKING COAL LTD.                     ...APPELLANT(S)
VERSUS
MAHENDRA PAL BHATIA AND ORS.                   ...RESPONDENT(S)
J U D G M E N T
V. Ramasubramanian
1. What was contemplated to be a summary proceeding for the
eviction of unauthorized occupants from public premises under the
Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1971
(hereinafter referred  to  as  the  “Act”), having turned out to be a
frustrating   legal   marathon   spread   over   a   period   of   38   years,
eventually culminating in the High Court setting aside the orders of
eviction passed under the Act, the Government Company which
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initiated the proceedings way back in 1984, has come up with the
above appeal.
2. We have heard Mr. Anupam Lal Das, learned senior counsel
appearing   for   the   appellant   and   Mr.   Shambo   Nandy,   learned
counsel appearing for the respondents.  
3. The Parliament enacted the Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act,
1973, (hereinafter referred to as the  “Nationalisation Act”) providing
for the acquisition and transfer of the right, title and interest of the
owners in respect of coal mines specified in the Schedule. The
Schedule to the Nationalisation Act contained a list of about 711
coal mines located in different parts of the country.  The Schedule
also contained the names and addresses of the owners of each of
those mines and the amount payable to those owners in terms of
Section 8 of the Nationalisation Act. Serial No.92 of the Schedule
contained the name of the coal mine “East Godhur”.  The owner of
the coal mine was indicated to be “East Godhur Colliery Company
(Private) Limited, P.O. Dhandad” and the amount of compensation
payable to the owner was also shown as Rs.4000/.
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4. In   the   year   1984,   the   Estate   Officer,   Dhanbad   initiated
proceedings in Case No.210 of 1984 under the provisions of the Act,
against Bhatia brothers and others, on the ground that they are unauthorised occupants of plot nos. 553, 554, 555, 556 and 559 to
564   located   in   Village   Matkuria,   District   Dhanbad.   These
proceedings culminated in an order of eviction dated 18.09.1985.
5. But this order was set aside by the District Court, Dhanbad in
an appeal under Section 9 of the Act, by an order dated 04.12.1986
and the matter was remanded back to the Estate Officer.
6. The   Estate   Officer   passed   a   fresh   order   dated   08.03.1989
dropping   the   eviction   proceedings   on   the   ground   that   the
respondents were authorized occupants. But the said order of the
Estate Officer was set aside by the District Court by an order dated
08.08.1990 in an appeal filed by the appellant herein under Section
9 of the Act.
7. But the order of the District Court was set aside by the High
Court by an order dated 17.07.1998 in a writ petition filed by the
respondents and the matter got back to the District Court by way of
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remand for a fresh disposal.
8. The District Court passed an order dated 28.09.2000 allowing
the appeal of the appellant herein and directing eviction. This order
of the District Court was set aside by a learned Single Judge of the
High Court by an order dated 20.06.2013 in a writ petition filed by
the respondents. The said order of the learned Single Judge was
confirmed   by   the   Division   Bench   in   an   intra­court   appeal   by
judgment dated 19.02.2015, which is what is impugned before us
in the above appeal.
9. The only question which the Estate Officer, the District Court
and the High Court dabbled with, was as to whether the property in
the occupation of the respondents and their predecessor in interest
was covered by the definition of the expression  “mine”  in Section
2(h) of the Nationalisation Act. This question arose in the context of
two limited facts namely, 
(i)  The property in question was purchased by an individual by
name Jamini Mohan Majumdar, under a registered sale deed dated
05.02.1945, long prior to 01.05.1973, the date of coming into force
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of   the   Nationalisation   Act.   In   this   sale   deed   dated   05.02.1945
Jamini Mohan Majumdar’s occupation was described as “Manager”,
East Godhur Colliery; 
(ii) The said Jamini Mohan Majumdar sold the property in question
under   four   different   sale   deeds   dated   17.01.1984.   It   was   only
thereafter that proceedings under the Act, were initiated.
10. In view of the above two facts, the objection raised by the
respondents to the proceedings under the Act was that the property
was a private property, not forming part of a “mine”. Reliance was
also placed upon the Report of the Court Commissioner, according
to which there was no mark of any colliery in the disputed land and
that there was a two storey building on the disputed plot, with
Godhur Colliery being located 3 Kilometers away.
11. In other words the objection of the respondents was two­fold
namely, (i) that the property did not belong to the company which
owned the East Godhur Coal Mine; and (ii) that the land in question
was not used as a coal­mine.
12. But, unfortunately for the respondents, both the objections
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cannot stand in the light of the statutory prescriptions. Section 3(1)
of   the   Nationalisation   Act,   declares   that   on   the   appointed   day,
which was 01.05.1973, the right, title and interest of the owners in
relation to the coal­mines specified in the Schedule shall stand
transferred to and shall vest absolutely in the Central government
free from all encumbrances. Section 3(1) of the Nationalisation Act,
1973 reads as follows:­
“3. Acquisition of rights of owners in respect of coal
mines.­(1) On   the   appointed   day,   the   right,   title   and
interest   of   the   owners   in   relation   to   the   coal   mines
specified in the Schedule shall stand transferred to, and
shall   vest   absolutely   in,   the   Central   Government   free
from all incumbrances.”
xxxx                                   xxxx                                xxxx
13. As   could   be   seen   from   the   vesting   provision,   what   was
transferred  to  and  vested  in  the  Central  Government,  were  not
corporate houses or business entities owning coal­mines. What was
transferred to and vested in the Central Government were the coalmines. In other words this Nationalisation Act, was little different
from the statutory enactments nationalizing institutions such as
banks, insurance companies etc. Therefore, the ownership of the
land was immaterial. If the land fell within the definition of the
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expression  “mine”  under the Nationalisation Act, the same stood
transferred to and vested in the Central Government under Section
3(1).
14. The definition of the expression “mine” under Section 2(h) of
the Nationalisation Act, is very wide. It reads as follows:­
2.  Definitions.­ In this Act, unless the context otherwise
requires,­­
xxx                                xxx                              xxx
(h)    " mine" means any excavation where any operation
for the purpose of searching for or obtaining minerals has
been or is being carried on, and includes—
(i)  all borings and bore holes;
(ii) all shafts, whether in the course of being sunk or not; 
(iii) all levels and inclined planes in the course of being
driven;
(iv) all open cast workings;
(v) all conveyors or aerial ropeways provided for bringing 
into or removal from a mine of minerals or other articles 
or for the removal of refuse therefrom;
(vi) all   lands,   buildings,   works,   adits,   levels,   planes,
machinery   and   equipments,   instruments,   stores,
vehicles, railways, tramways and sidings in, or adjacent
to, a mine and used for the purposes of the mine; 
(vii) all   workshops   (including   buildings,   machinery,
instruments, stores, equipment of such workshops and
the   lands   on   which   such   workshops   stand)   in,   or
adjacent   to,   a   mine   and   used   substantially   for   the
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purposes of the mine or a number of mines under the
same management;
(viii) all coal belonging to the owner of the mine, whether
in stock or in transit, and all coal under production in a
mine;
(ix) all power stations in a mine or operated primarily for
supplying electricity for the purpose of working the mine
or a number of mines under the same management;
(x) all lands, buildings and equipments belonging to the
owner of the mine, and in, adjacent to or situated on the
surface of, the mine where the washing of coal obtained
from   the   mine   or   manufacture,   therefrom,   of   coke   is
carried on;
(xi) all lands and buildings[ other than those referred to
in sub­ clause (x), wherever situated, if solely used for the
location of the management, sale or liaison offices, or for
the residence of officers and staff, of the mine;
(xii) all   other   fixed   assets,   movable   and   immovable,
belonging to the owner of a mine, wherever situated, and
current assets, belonging to a mine, whether within its
premises or outside.”
15. As could be seen from clause (xi) of Section 2(h), even the
lands and buildings used solely for the location of the management,
sale or liaison offices or for the residence of officers and staff were
also included in the definition of the word “mine”. Therefore, the
contention that the property was the private property of Jamini
Mohan Majumdar, and that his occupation as Manager of a colliery
was irrelevant, would fall to the ground. The focus of Section 2(h)
read with Section 3(1) is on the property and not on who the owner
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of the property is.
16. Similarly, the objection that the land in question was not used
as a colliery is also irrelevant in view of the fact that clause (xi) of
Section 2(h) uses the words  “wherever situated”. In any case the
contention that the property was not part of a colliery, may be
factually   incorrect.     The   sale   deed   dated   05.02.1945   by   which
Jamini   Mohan   Majumdar   purchased   the   property   in   question
contains a very specific recital which reads as follows:
“…This deed witnesseth that in the schedule land in view of
the ongoing colliery workings the fertility of the schedule
land has been reduced for that reason and for monetary
reason being in special need and having no alternative when
I offered for absolute sale of the land in schedule as receipt
of consideration price of Rs.575/­ on this day by way of
absolute sale this sale deed is being executed in your favour.
You are at liberty to carry on all nature of colliery work
both  underground   and   surface   and   enjoy   the  name  TO
HAVE   AND   HOLD   the   same   to   and   upto   the   purchaser
absolutely and forever in any manner whatsoever without
any hindrance or interruption from us together with all right,
benefit, easement, privileges, liberties which he hereto begins
enjoyed… ”
Therefore, the respondents cannot now rely upon the Report of a
Court   Commissioner   who   carried   out   inspection   probably   after
two/three decades of nationalization.
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17. The learned counsel for the respondents placed reliance upon
the judgment of this Court in New Satgram Engineering Works
&   Another  vs.  Union   of   India   &   Ors.
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,   in   support   of   his
contention that the question whether something is a “mine" or not is
essentially a question of fact and that when the facts are seriously
controverted it was appropriate for the High Court to relegate the
parties to the civil court. 
18. Though paragraph 16 of the decision in New Satgram (supra)
appears   to   support   the   contention   of   the   respondents   by
highlighting   the   difference   between   the   language   employed   in
clauses (vii) and clause (xi) of Section 2(h), a subsequent decision of
this Court (also of a 3 member bench) in Bharat Coking Coal Ltd.
Vs.  Madanlal Agrawal2
, steers clear any air of suspicion. In this
case, this Court clarified that the extended meaning given to the
word “mine” was to ensure that the activity of mining coal could be
carried on in an uninterrupted fashion. This Court also cautioned
“that  the  Act  should  not  be  construed  in  a  way to frustrate  the
1 (1980) 4 SCC 570
2 (1997) 1 SCC 177
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working of the coal mines altogether, thereby stop or bring down
production of coal by the nationalization of coal mines”.
19. Therefore, the impugned orders of the High Court run contrary
to  the statutory prescriptions and hence  liable to  be set aside.
Accordingly, the appeal is allowed, the impugned orders of the High
Court are set aside and the writ petition filed by the respondents is
dismissed. The order of eviction shall stand confirmed. There will be
no order as to costs.
…..…………....................J.
    (Hemant Gupta)
.…..………......................J.
(V. Ramasubramanian)
New Delhi
April 1, 2022
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