1. This is one of the many cases we have had in this Court depicting the manner in which the Special Deputy Commissioner who is the appellate authority under the Karnataka Rent Control Act disposing of a stay petition in appeals relating to allotment of houses. To some, this case may appear to be a small matter but having regard to our legal system which must, of necessity, conform to the rule of law, the case has greater importance.
2. The facts are these:
The premises bearing No. 119, Bull Temple Road, Bangalore City, was jointly purchased by the petitioner, his father and brothers under a registered sale deed dated Feb. 18, 1977 for rupees one lakh. It consists of a big site with two out houses widely separated from each other. One out-house is already under the occupation of the brother of the petitioner. When, the other outhouse became vacant, the petitioner intimated the vacancy to the Controller and also sought permission for self-occupation. The Controller rejected his request and allotted the house to respondent-4 as per the direction of the State Government. Against the allotment order, the petitioner has preferred an appeal to the Special Deputy Commissioner, Bangalore District and asked for an interim stay of the allotment. The Special Deputy Commissioner has declined to stay the said allotment.
3. What happened before the Special Deputy Commissioner is not quite clear from the records. There are two divergent versions, one by the petitioner and another by the Special Deputy Commissioner. The petitioner has stated thus:
'The petitioner and his counsel Sri G. Narayanamurthy, entered the chambers of the 2nd respondent to plead for consideration of the stay application and get the impugned order stayed. As they entered the chambers, they found the wife of the 4th respondent Smt. S. Nagalakshmi coming out of the chambers. When the petitioner and his counsel met the 2nd Respondent, he said to their surprise, that their stay application had already been rejected and an endorsement will follow. The petitioner went to the office with his lawyer to find out what orders were passed by the 2nd respondent, they were informed that the orders on the stay application had not yet been passed and they were directed to come to the office on Monday the 25th July 1977. The petitioner again went to the office of the 2nd respondent to see what orders were passed. Even on that day the order of the 2nd respondent was not available and only on 26-7-1977, the order was available in the office and immediately a copy of the same was applied and obtained the same day. It is that order that is produced as Exhibit 'C'.
While stating so, the petitioner has also made certain allegations against the Special Deputy Commissioner. He has complained that the Special Deputy Commissioner did not hear the petitioner or his counsel, but heard only Smt. Nagalakshmi, the wife of the allottee, and that too, in the absence of the petitioner and his counsel.
Since the allegations are of serious nature this Court while issuing notice to the Deputy Commissioner, called for his comments. The Deputy Commissioner has submitted his report in which he has denied the above allegations. He has got his own story to tell, and it is like this:
'On 23-7-1977 (Saturday) after hearing number of Revenue and Miscellaneous cases in the Court, I retired to my chambers. As is the practice in the Revenue Office a large number of visitors were waiting to see me to make representations etc. My peon started admitting the visitors, one by one to my chambers at 4.00 p.m. and at about 4.15 p.m. or so a lady appeared, who never disclosed her name and represented that she is the wife of a patient who has been allotted a house by the Controller and that I should hear her regarding an appeal relating to the house allotted to her husband. Thereupon, taking into consideration that a number of innocent and illiterate persons come to my chambers to submit representations, I asked that lady what is the appeal about and the number of the appeal, so that I could ask my judicial clerk to inform her of the date of hearing. She stated that the landlord is threatening to file an appeal against the order of the Controller and that she and her family will be put to immeasurable hardship. Immediately I advised her that she cannot make any such representation to me at that stage and after ascertaining from my judicial clerk, who was present in my chambers that no appeal has been filed in respect of the house referred to by her, while representing I told her that in case the appeal is filed, she will be getting a notice and on the day appointed in the notice, she can appear in the Court and make her submissions either through a lawyer Or by herself. After informing her, I asked for the next party, who was waiting to call upon me to enter into my chambers. After about 15 or 20 minutes i. e., at about 4.45 p. m. one Sri G. Narayana Murthy, an advocate came and presented a HRC Appeal petition, which has been registered in my office in No. 84/77-78, and prayed for stay. The appeal was not accompanied by a certified copy of the order appealed against. After hearing the counsel, as I had number of other visitors to see, I stated that I will be passing necessary orders in the course of the day. In the evening at about 5.30 p.m. I wrote the order and asked my judicial clerk to get it typed. On his bringing the typed copy, I signed the order and sent the papers to the section. That is what happened on that day as far as I can recollect.'
4. On a close perusal of these allegations and counter allegations, I am inclined to believe the major portion of the statements of the Deputy Commissioner. The record of the case also substantially corroborates his version. The petitioner appears to have overstated his case in some particulars with game allegations that are far from truth. The stay order which was hand-written by the Deputy Commissioner is on the file. It was stated therein that counsel for the appellant was heard. I have no reason to disbelieve this statement. But, I would only add that it would have been proper for the Special Deputy Commissioner to have written the order in the presence of the appellant and his counsel, instead of writing and sending it to the Section, after the appellant left the chambers.
5. There is yet one other aspect of the matter. The case really turns on that aspect. The petitioner has complained that the Special Deputy Commissioner heard Smt. Naga-lakshmi, the wife of the allottee even before the appeal was presented and his refusal to stay the allotment was, therefore, vitiated. But the Special Deputy Commissioner has stated that the wife of the allottee met him in his chambers and enquired about the appeal, to which he said that the appeal has not yet been presented and she would be notified about the hearing of the appeal. In this part of the case, one thing is clear, that is, the wife of the allottee met the Special Deputy Commissioner in his chambers and enquired about her case, and the petitioner along with his advocate saw the wife of the allottee coming out of the chambers when they went to present the appeal.
The nature of the conversation between the Special Deputy Commissioner and the wife of the allottee may be of anybody's guess, and therefore, I think the petitioner is fairly entitled to complain that the presence of the wife of the allottee and the conversation she had with the Special Deputy Commissioner, must have influenced the decision of the Special Deputy Commissioner. The Special Deputy Commissioner, of course, has explained that he being a Revenue Officer, a large number of visitors would come to see him every day to make representations about their grievances and the wife of the allottee was one among them on July 23, 1977. and he did not hear her on the merits of the appeal.
6. It is no doubt true that the Special Deputy Commissioner primarily being an executive Officer, has got manyfold duties to perform. But when he is acting as an appellate authority under the Rent Control Act, his decision in the matter is no less judicial. He must shed the mentality of an executive officer. He must keep himself absolutely independent of all authority save that of the law. His conduct should be above broad and must inspire public confidence in his impartiality. To ensure such independence, and to inspire public confidence, he must afford to the litigant public open and fair hearing. He should always remain without bias and the like. He must not give scope for any party to entertain a doubt or suspicion that there was an opportunity for one party to influence his judgment. If his conduct, by any chance, gives rise to a reasonable suspicion that justice does not seem to have been done, his decision would be set aside.
These are only some of the principles which are to be borne in mind by persons exercising judicial functions. I may refer in this context one or two decisions. In Cooper v. Wilson (1937) 2 KB 309 the presence of one of the respondents in the Watch Committee while considering the appeal, was held to have vitiated the decision of the committee. In Regina v. Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council (1976) 1 WLR 1052, a statutory Committee under the Barnsley Corporation Act, 1969, heard the complainant and representative of the street trader. Thereafter, the committee started discussing the case for coming to certain conclusion. During the discussion the Market Manager who was in the position of a prosecutor was present all the time. On these facts, Lord Denning M. R., set aside the decision of the Committee by observing thus:
'When the committee discussed the case and came to their decision, the market manager was there all the time. His presence at all their deliberations is enough to vitiate the proceedings. It is contrary to natural justice that one who is in the position of a prosecutor should be present at the deliberations of the adjudicating committee.'
7. It is noticeable, in both the above cases, that the person whose presence was complained of when the Tribunal was considering its decision, in fact, took no part in the decision or deliberation, yet it was held that the decision was vitiated. That is because of a well known principle to which we, in this country, also steadfastly adhere 'that it is not merely of some importance but is of fundamental importance that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to bedone.'
8. In the present case also, the presence of the wife of the allottee in the chambers of the Special Deputy Commissioner and the talk she had with him about the appeal, had given rise to a reasonable suspicion. The nature of their conversation, as I have earlier observed, may be of anybody's guess. At any rate, it would have reasonably led the appellant to say to himself: 'There has been an opportunity here for one of the parties to influence the judgment of the Special Deputy Commissioner, and it looks as if justice may not be done'. This suspicion has been further strengthened by the manner in which the Special Deputy Commissioner has disposed of the stay matter. These circumstances are by themselves sufficient to hold that the impugned order has been vitiated, and contrary to natural justice.
9. In the result, the writ petition is allowed. The order of the Special Deputy Commissioner is quashed. To avoid embarrassment to the Special Deputy Commissioner, I direct that the appeal be heard and disposed of by the Deputy Commissioner. Bangalore District, as expeditiously as possible.
In the circumstances, I make noorder as to costs.
10. Petition allowed.