August 6, 2019
Manish Gupta speaks on The Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Amendment Bill, 2019
Sir, the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Amendment Bill 2019, we have observed in this amendment that there are several infirmities and several assumptions which have been made to obviate the obvious problem of overstaying in Government accommodation by several categories of persons who are allotted such accommodations. Sir, this matter needs a holistic view. Holistic view in the sense that in the short term, attempts are being made to vacate accommodation in a summary form. Now, we look at the Government apparatus – more than 12% of the GDP is spent on Government employees. The reason is that whether the State Government or the Central Government, the multifarious schemes that are required for security requires a lot of manning, lot of officers, lot of ministerial staff, and to assist in the delivery systems to the people. It is very important Government runs on the apparatus.
Sir, now the Government accommodation, also the stock of Government accommodation – we do not find anything in the Bill or in the objects and reasons or what the honourable minister is stating in the Lok Sabha or here that the stock is needed to be built up. The shortages are emanating from the fact that certain large number of accommodations are being blocked but addition to the stock is not being done. When lakhs of crores are spent in budget, why cannot more funds be allotted to build more accommodation on a yearly basis. Slowly build up the stock so that this kind of a situation doesn’t arise. This kind of situation where you are trying to bring in summary procedures.
Sir this legislation was amended on five other occasions. That only goes to show that, what I said earlier, holistic view needed. Why do you have to keep amending law so frequently? There is a need to take a total view of matters and the fixed tenure system we have said. Certain sections of this Bill have not been properly drafted, leaves a lot to be desired. You have said “the period he is in office”. This means that the person could be a joint secretary to a department, changes his accommodation but he still continues as the joint secretary. The period he is allotted the accommodation, this should be revisited, reworded.
Now this three days – what is three days? The estate officer here has been given unbridled powers to decide when to give the notice, to give a notice and then to execute the notice. The payment of damages is another big issue here. Payment of damages, nowhere in the proposed amendments or in the Act has it been mentioned how these damages are to be calculated? If you are referring to a monthly rent, that should be clearly stated. You say damages; it gives a blanket power to the estate officer to elevate this thing once. This is not a quasi-judicial proceeding. Through this Bill, that power could not be given to the estate officer, yet you have given him summary powers. Therefore the damages are not quantified.
In Section 5 of this Act, 15 days are given for the vacation of public premises. But in this Bill, for residential accommodation, this allowance has not been given. Three days are too small a time. Clause 4, estate officers may fix separate amount for separate accommodation in separate places. So there are inconsistencies. This needs to be standardised. There are no guidelines regarding this. So I think this should be incorporated in separate legislations. Section 3B(A) gives you three working days. I think it’s shocking, I’m surprised to see this provision that you can fix a notice on the door of the flat which sounds as if one is going through a criminal proceeding. In criminal proceedings, for absconders there is a provision in the CrPC that a notice can be pasted on the door. In the case of an officer, which under the Law which has nothing to do with crime, a criminal option has been taken of pasting the notice. It even goes on to say that the notice can be fixed on any other permanent place. Sir, I think officers should not be treated in this fashion, I think you should take a more lenient view.
The delegation of powers to the estate officer. This is very disturbing, because the estate officer – I don’t know what rank it would be as it is not clearly mentioned and you have not mentioned who an estate officer can be, which cadre would he belong to, what would be his pay-scale, what would be his status. So if any junior officer becomes the estate officer is very likely to be more arbitrary than one would imagine.
So you have got a Cabinet Sub-Committee for accommodation and you have mentioned that the Cabinet Sub-Committee would deal with such cases. But I think the Cabinet Sub-Committee would not have time to go into details of every case as the whole issue is on a case by case basis. So you should have a special committee or an empowered committee so that all the extenuating circumstances, all the compassionate grounds, all the issues that need to be treated with care, the Cabinet Sub-Committee would not be able to do that.
So in the interest of the Government as well as the incumbent, this matter should be taken up so that the cause of natural justice and such other issues that needs to be taken into account. You have also mentioned, as I have said earlier the housing accommodation. You need to increase the stock, the Law should be revisited. Even here in Section 7, the wording of such a person is “unauthorised occupation of resident accommodation” challenges the eviction order passed by the estate officer under Sub-section 2 of Section 3(B). In any court, he shall pay damages for every month. It appears as if, if he goes to court, he is going to be punished. If he takes the option of a fundamental right, he is going to be punished for going to the court. I don’t think that is your intention. If that is not your intention, I would be very grateful if you revisit this section and re-draft it.