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Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Bharat Insurance Building !!

Mount Road aka Anna Salai is one of the busiest arterial roads of the Chennai city – in olden days, every Tamil movie, to show that heroine has landed in MadraS would show Central Railway Station and then ‘the tallest 14 storeyed LIC building’.  As you travel from Santhi theatre signal – Mount Road, around 100 meters in front of LIC has road on the left – “General Patters Road’ and dead on that intersection an old building stands ! [one could wonder how is it standing still!]  Remember that upon joining Insurance industry in 1985, I had been to that building – for Madras Insurance Institute (as also some branch of LIC) used to function from there !

Even that time, it was close dilapidation .. .. the staircase would be creepy .. it is ‘Bharat Insurance building’ a structure dating back to  1897.  Searching its history read that it was earlier known as Kardyl Building, inaugurated in 1897 taking 3 years for completion, and is an example of the Indo-Saracenic architecture.  Constructed for W E Smith and Company, it was bought by Bharat Insurance in 1934. This insurance company became part of  Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC).   The Madras High Court in 2010  restrained LIC’s  move to pull down the structure. The building with stained glass panels, domes, spires, arches, verandahs and 100-ft minarets was once perhaps a  lively commercial centre, but deteriorated over the years due to poor maintenance.   In 1998, tenants were asked to vacate the premises due to the weakness of the structure, and LIC planned to demolish the building in 2006.

The building when seen last a few months ago ! and photographed in Sept 2020 by me [the first set photos date back to Aug 2012] was ‘a dangerous building’ – people not allowed to go near and certainly not allowed to enter the premises !

Away from the once landmark building, here is an interesting case decided by High Court of Uttarakhand on 11th Jan 2019 – Amarnath Seth being the petitioner; Union of India and others being the Respondents.  The petitioner's case, as stated in the affidavit filed in support of the writ petition, is that he had taken the subject premises  at Dehradun on lease from Bharat Insurance Company Limited in 1956 at a rent of Rs.37.50 per month and, as proof thereof, receipt dated 07.09.1956, issued by Bharat Insurance Company Limited, was being filed; he had made an application to the Rent Control and Eviction Officer, under Section 3-A of the U.P. Control of Rent and Eviction Act, 1947, on 10.06.1959 for determination of the annual reasonable rent of the premises occupied by the tenants of the building; the Rent Controller had passed an order dated 17.02.1961 holding that the building, in which the subject premises was included, was constructed prior to the year 1951, and fell within the purview of the 1947 Act; the said order of the Rent Controller was challenged by the LIC in Civil Miscellaneous Writ Petition No. 1605 of 1961 wherein they admitted that the petitioner was a tenant, and his tenancy had commenced when the building was owned by Bharat Insurance Company Limited; the said writ petition was allowed, by order dated 11.01.1965, holding that the said building had not been completely constructed prior to 01.01.1951, and the provisions of the 1947 Act was excluded from operation over the said building by reason of Section 1-A of the Act; and the said building was not governed by the provisions of the 1947 Act. The order passed by the Rent Controller was, therefore, set- aside.

It is the petitioner's case that, even after the assets and liabilities of Bharat Insurance Company Limited stood transferred to the LIC in 1960, he continued to be in occupation of the premises; the petitioner took out an agency of LIC in July, 1958, and was attached to the Dehradun branch; after the building stood transferred to the LIC, he submitted a letter asking them to deduct the rent of the building from the commission payable to him; the agency of the petitioner was kept in abeyance by the LIC with effect from the date of his appointment as a Development Officer of the LIC on 09.07.1963; his services as a Development Officer was, however, terminated by order dated 21.11.1964; a notice was issued on 11.05.1977 stating that the petitioner was allowed to occupy the premises as a licensee of the LIC, and as he had made alterations and additions in the premises without the consent of the LIC, they no longer wanted to keep him as a licensee and, as such, the notice of revocation of the licence, and for vacating the premises was issued.

As the petitioner did not choose to file a copy of the rent receipt, which he now seeks to place reliance upon, (rent receipt allegedly issued by Bharat Insurance Company Ltd. on 07.09.1956), before the District Judge, Dehradun, he cannot, in proceedings under Article 227 of the Constitution of India, place reliance thereupon, and thereby claim to be a tenant of the premises before the 1971 Act came into force w.e.f. 16.09.1958. It matters little even if it is presumed that the petitioner was in occupation of the premises, as a tenant of Bharat Insurance Company, before the 1971 Act came into force w.e.f. 16.09.1958. LIC became the owner of the subject premises, under Section 45 of the Life Insurance Corporation Act, on the assets of Bharat Insurance Company Ltd. vesting in it, during the year 1960. The petitioner has, by claiming to be a tenant of the LIC and not to be a licensee, has admitted that the LIC is his landlord.  

Attornment is one mode of recognising a person as one's landlord, just as payment of rent is another mode for the purpose. The tenant is not allowed to impeach the title of a person to whom he has paid rent, or whose title he has otherwise recognized. Simply by attornment, the tenant is estopped from questioning the derivative title of the landlord's successor.  

The jurisdiction of this Court, under Article 227 of the Constitution of India, has been invoked by the petitioner seeking a writ of certiorari to quash the orders dated 21.10.1982 and 17.01.1983 passed by the third respondent; and the orders dated 23.02.1984 and 27.02.1984 passed by the second respondent.

Bharat Insurance building is more than a century old and this case under reference is more than 50 years old !! – a building previously owned by M/s Mansa Ram & sons who sold the property to Bharat Insurance Co. Ltd on 22.04.1955. The said premises were broken into five different numbers, and nearly a dozen multi-storied blocks were constructed thereupon. After the property was purchased by Bharat Insurance Co. Ltd., they continued to let out the shops and quarters. The petitioner herein (Sri A.N. Seth) claimed to be the tenant of one of the shops from 1956. As he was a permanent defaulter, Suit for ejectment and recovery of arrears of rent was filed against him.

The merit of the judgment  and the legal intricacies of 11.1.2019 may not attract us .. .. but the dispute arising out of tenancy dating back to 1956 becoming a subject matter of various Courts and finally getting adjudicated in 2019 – with one of the parties no longer in scene – the Bharat Insurance Co – makes us think of the long pendency, delay and the way some cases get dragged in Courts of Law. 

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
8th May 2021.




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