BPCL may have to let go Nashik plot held illegally for 55 years
The bench of Justice Dama Sheshadri Naidu was critical of BPCL’s numerous attempts to appeal, and thereby prolong the legal battle.
Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) will have to forego a 14,550 square feet plot in Nashik, belonging to the family of late Champalal Vithuram Jajoo, which it had illegally occupied for over 55 years, after a single bench of the Bombay high court turned down an appeal filed by the public sector undertaking to retain the plot.
The bench of Justice Dama Sheshadri Naidu was critical of BPCL’s numerous attempts to appeal, and thereby prolong the legal battle, when it said, “If law cannot give you what you seek, litigation will. The appellant (Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited), it seems, strongly believes in this and proves it right, too.”
The comment came because of the conduct of BPCL which held on to the plot with an unregistered lease deed by prolonging litigation. According to law, BPCL with an unregistered deal could have held on to the property only for 30 days.
The issue started in February 1965 when BPCL, which earlier was Burmah Shell Oil Storage and Distribution Company of India Limited, secured a 20 year lease for the property for Rs 3,900 per year but did not secure a registered lease deed.
Burmah Shell Oil Storage and Distribution Company of India Limited was nationalized by the central government to form Bharat Refineries Limited, before renaming it as BPCL.
In 1977, the plot owners filed an eviction suit to recover the plot from BPCL for erecting unauthorized permanent structures, change of user and for unlawfully sub-letting the plot. In March 1985, a trial court dismissed the suit and later an appeal filed by the owners was also dismissed. The owners filed a writ petition which was also dismissed in 1998.
In May 1998, the owners issued a notice of possession to BPCL and sought their eviction on the grounds of bona fide requirement, arrears of rent and permanent construction and filed a civil suit which they won. BPCL was unsuccessful in its challenge to the civil suit in 2005, and subsequently filed a second appeal in 2014 for which the Bombay high court ruled that the appeal was not maintainable in 2016. But BPCL once again filed another appeal in 2018.
“All the while it holds on to the property,” noted Justice Naidu and said, “Now the PSU has been a tenant for 55 years on the strength of an unregistered lease deed, which legally entitled the lessee to be a tenant for only 30 days,” the judge added.
“In other words, it is supposed to be a tenant for 30 days; that is all it gets as a lessee under an unregistered lease. But BPCL continues as a lessee for 55 years. Law gives it 30 days, and litigation stretches it to 20,075 days,” said the judge and dismissed the appeal filed by the public sector undertaking for securing extension of the lease.
By another order, also pronounced on Monday, the judge also upheld the orders passed by a civil judge junior division at Nashik in September 2005, evicting BPCL and one of its retailers from the plot.
Justice Naidu noted that first of all the unregistered lease conferred no rights on BPCL. Besides, the PSU has already got the extension beyond 20 years - the period it prayed for in the suit, despite losing the suit.