Setting aside the Bombay High Court judgment in the case of Voltas Ltd vs Tehsildar, the Supreme Court has held that Voltas Ltd, the manufacturer of air conditioners, refrigerators and other items, had not violated any of the terms of change of use of surplus factory land allotted to it 33 years ago in Thane, Maharashtra. For setting up a factory in Thane in 1966, the Maharashtra government had acquired more than 1 lakh square metres of land for Voltas and issued an allotment order in 1969 with a specific condition that the company shall not alienate the land without prior permission of the government. After about 24 years, the company was called upon to show cause as to why the land should not be forfeited and the amount of R14.11crore towards unearned income be not charged as Voltas violated the terms and conditions of the order by granting rights to the developers for the construction of houses and selling them, thereby benefiting to a large extent. After the state government imposed the charge towards unearned income, the company moved the HC, which in 2003 ruled that there was a breach of terms and conditions of the allotment order by Voltas. While remitting the matter back to the competent authority to decide whether the company was liable to pay any amount towards the unearned income, the apex court said that there was nothing on record to suggest the basis on which the authorities determined the unearned income. Further, no hearing was given to the company before passing the impugned orders against it by the collector.
In the name of those dead at sea
Directing the Centre to amend the Merchant Shipping Act 1958, the Supreme Court in the case of Sabeeha Faikage vs Union of India said that there was a need to have a relook at the laws to ensure that the life of seafarers employed in different ships in the high seas is made more secure and safe and in case of loss of life their kith and kin are paid adequate amount of compensation. While the government had submitted that the Shipping Act did not apply to seamen onboard foreign vessels, the apex court had taken note of an affidavit filed by the Centre last year in which the proposal for setting up an Indian Maritime Casualty Investigation Cell and for amending the 2005 Rules was indicated. In this case, some victims were recruited as seafarers on a foreign ship Jupiter-6. The tugboat along with its crew comprising 10 Indians and 3 Ukrainians had left Namibia to tow a dead ship on its way to Alang in Gujarat. Jupiter-6 went missing in the high seas after transmitting distress signals. The relatives of the victims had claimed that the Indian authorities did not properly investigate the mishap, and therefore their fundamental right to life was violated and they should be paid compensation. However, the apex court rejected the arguments by saying that damages would be due only if there was malicious intent on the part of the wrong-doer.
Re-possession of vehicle not an offence
In a relief to banks and financial institutions, the Supreme Court has held that if a vehicle on hire-purchase is seized by the financier for default of loan, the latter cannot be prosecuted as he is re-possessing the goods owned by him. Pointing out that it had earlier quashed criminal proceedings against financiers in such cases, the apex court said that it was a settled proposition of law that the financier retained the ownership during the subsistence of the hire-purchase agreement, thus will not face any criminal action for forcible repossession of the vehicle any time before the entire loan is repaid by the buyer. The purchaser remains the trustee/bailee on behalf of the financier or the financial institution, the apex court said in the case of Anup Sarmah vs Bhola Nath. Sarmah had initiated criminal proceedings against Bhola and others after they took possession of his Maruti Zen financed by them. The trial court in Guwahati had directed the financiers to return the vehicle to the buyer. However, the Gauhati High Court in June 2009 quashed the criminal proceedings against them. Even the Supreme Court upheld the HC judgment while reiterating that the dispute over payment is civil in nature and a criminal complaint would not apply.