Establishment and function of central advisory council and RERA tribunal

4000 words/10 Annexures limitation on The online filing of complaints to RERA Punjab

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Punjab and Haryana RERA have issued certain guidelines to file complaints online to both the Regulatory Authority and the Adjudicating Officer. These guidelines are provided under Form-M and Form-N. The conditions to fill up the complaints have been paraphrased as follows-

  1. Particulars of the Complainant
  2. Particulars of the Respondent
  3. Jurisdiction of the Real Estate Regulatory Authority, Punjab
  4. Facts of the case (Concise statement of facts and grounds for the complaint) Maximum 2000 characters strictly else the complaint won’t be filed.
  5. Relief(s) Sought-

In view of the facts mentioned in paragraph 4 above, the complainant prays for the following relief(s). [Specify below the relief(s) claimed, the grounds for such relief(s) and the legal provisions (if any) relied upon] (Max. 2000 characters)

  1. Additional details, if the monetary relief sought consists of any Compensation/ Penalty/ Interest 
  2.  Any interim Order/ Relief pending the final decision of the complaint [Give here the nature of the interim order prayed for with reasons.] (Max. 2000 characters)
  3. A declaration that a complaint is not pending with any other Court/Authority or has not been decided by any other Court/ Authority, etc. (Declaration)
  4. List of Enclosures [Specify the details of enclosures with the complaint]
  5. Verification

It is also to be noted that the number of annexures has also been limited up to 10. The rules are to ensure that there is a smooth implementation of the RERA and it conveniences the administration to efficiently work.

The rules may seem reasonable in the first glance. But, two problems arise from the same. These are as follows:

  1. Rejection of the complaint filed if the facts of the case exceed the word limit;
  2. The same condition is not put on the written statement/reply filed by the respondent in this case.

Infirmities of the limits imposed

Contradictions to the intent of the Act

The aim of the RERA has been worded as follows-

‘An Act to establish the Real Estate Regulatory Authority for regulation and promotion of the real estate sector and to ensure the sale of plot, apartment or building, as the case may be, or sale of real estate project, in an efficient and transparent manner and to protect the interest of consumers in the real estate sector and to establish an adjudicating mechanism for speedy dispute redressal and also to establish the Appellate Tribunal to hear appeals from the decisions, directions or orders of the Real Estate Regulatory Authority and the adjudicating officer and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.’[2]

This constitutes the spirit or the legislative intent of the whole Act. The Act was made to promote transparency in real estate so as to afford protection to the consumer. It provides a complaint redressal mechanism to further this objective.

An important internal aid to the interpretation of a statute is the preamble of the Act. The Preamble if taken in its etymological sense means “walking before”. It gives the idea of what is to come. Similarly, the Preamble of a Statute is the mirror which contains the purpose and the objective that it wants to meet. The intent of the Statute can be surmised properly if it is worded in simple and unambiguous terms. In statutory interpretation Courts generally see the intent through the Preamble as was reiterated by Sir John Nicholl in a case as under-

“It is to the preamble more specifically that we are to look for the reason or spirit of every statute, rehearsing this, as it ordinarily does, the evils sought to be remedied, or the doubts purported to be removed by the statute, and so evidencing, in the best and most satisfactory manner, the object or intention of the Legislature in making or passing the statute itself.”[2]

Under the purposive approach of statutory interpretation, what gains importance is the ‘context’ which includes the background, scope and purpose of the Act. The golden rule interpretation, on the other hand, states that the interpretation should not be such as to defeat the purpose of the Act altogether. The Supreme Court has stated in a case that “in order to get the true import of the statute, it is necessary to view the enactment in retrospect, the reasons for enacting it, the evils it was to end and the object it was to sub-serve. The Act therefore has, to be viewed as a whole and its intention determined by construing all the construing parts of the Act together and not by taking detached section as to take one word here and another there.”[4]  The same was enunciated by J. Mudholkar in another case[5].

In the present case, the imposition of the word limit on the complainant application is restrictive which defeats the very purpose of the Act itself. The Act clearly aims to establish a mechanism which strengthens transparency in the real estate sector by addressing the problems faced by the complainant. Many might not have access to lawyers who can help them in such applications. The presentation of the complaint may become a cumbersome task for the complainants as they would have to pay higher fees for the editing of the application to meet the word-limit in the first place. The editing of the application might even prove adverse to their situation. This restriction by imposing a word limit strikes at the very intention of the Act.  

Regulation in question fails to carry out the purpose of the act

The Punjab Real Estate Regulatory Authority (Procedure for handling complaints and related matters) Regulations 2017[6] have been made in accordance with the powers conferred on the Authority by section 85 of the RERA, 2016. Section 85(2)[7] specifically confers power on the Authority regarding an application under RERA. Hence, the powers of the Punjab RERA to make regulations regarding the application comes from the parent Act which is RERA, 2016. As mentioned above, the purpose of the RERA is to enable a transparent mechanism in place which helps the real estate agents as well as the persons who may be affected by the same. In the present case, the imposition of word limit in complaints and form-M to the authority is not well-founded in the parent Act. It does not enable the parent Act to fulfil the aims and objectives for which the same was made. In a judgment by the Madras High Court[8], while upholding the Income-tax rules, certain observations had been made which clarified the position on subordinate legislation and the parent legislation. It was observed by the Hon’ble High Court that if conflicting subordinate legislation is upheld which tends to defeat the provisions and the objective of the Parent Act, it would not be tenable. The Hon’ble Court further stated: “ The very essence of subordinate legislation of the description now under consideration is that the body of the Act has laid down the general provisions and the policy of the legislature leaving out the details of the provisions of the Act to be carried out by the rule-making authority by making rules. The rule-making authority can only make rules with a view to effectuate the object of the Act and if the Legislature in its wisdom did not think it fit to modify any of the statutory provisions relating to other branches of law, the subordinate legislative authority cannot claim to exercise such power. It would be contrary to the very spirit and the basis of subordinate legislation to recognize the power of that kind.” Further references were made to English and American positions in the present case which emphasized upon the same aspect.

This limitation on the rule-making is recognised both in England and in America. Maxwell on Interpretation of Statutes, 9th Edn., at page 302, says:

“Rules and by-laws made under statutory powers enforceable by penalties are construed like other provisions encroaching on the ordinary rights of persons. They must, on pain of invalidity be clear and definite and free from ambiguity, and should not make unlawful things that are otherwise incorrect. They must not be in excess of the statutory power authorizing them, ‘nor repugnant to that statute or to the general principles of law.’ If the subject is deprived of his right to resort to the Courts of law of his country, it must be by express enactment and not by bylaw.’”[ix]

The 5 grounds of ultra vires were also produced in the observations made by the High Court as well one of which included- Repugnant to the parent statute.

The present limitation on the number of words in the application is nothing less than the dilution of the objective of the parent act in question which altogether defeats the purpose of the RERA.

Violation of fundamental rights

The rule limiting the no. of words in the application suffers from arbitrariness on two counts- 1) Unreasonable restriction of free speech and 2) Discriminates between the positions of the one complaining and the other responding. These violations lead to arbitrariness in the Punjab RERA rules.  

Unreasonable restriction of free speech- This regulation further impinges upon the freedom of speech and expression of any citizen who has a genuine complaint to make before the authority under the present Act for addressing his grievance. Regulations or orders or rules which tend to take away the fundamental rights of people and citizens of India. Article 19 (1)(a) of the Constitution of India provides to its citizens the fundamental right of speech be it in any form though these are under certain restrictions.

Even if restrictions are put on the freedom of speech and expression, those need to be reasonable in nature which means that such an action needs to pass the test of reasonableness which will be adjudged by the Courts. This question has time and again come before the Apex Court regarding the question of fetters or limits put on the speech.

In Sakal Newspaper v. Union of India[x], the curbs put on the newspapers’ right to circulate news through a Government order was pronounced as unconstitutional. The order which had the elements of price, size, and advertisements were fettering on the circulation of the papers in India. The same was held in the Coleman case[xi]. What was looked into was the impact of such an order? In the Coleman case, it was stated that freedom of speech is both qualitative as well as quantitative in nature. This means that if a fetter is limiting your speech in a numerical manner, it may not stand the test of the Constitution.

The criticism on the limitation imposed in the present case should be compared to similar criticism drawn on the amendments in the Right to Information adding a word limit of 500 for an RTI application[12]. Justice A.P. Shah and Ms Aruna Roy, two very important personalities who were involved in the making of the RTI had heavily criticized the 500 word limit in the RTI applications. They stated that this would lead to applications being rejected for mere technicalities. It is also to be noted that another case in the Karnataka High Court has been filed by one M.Veerabhadariah where the word limit for RTI applications has been challenged. Presently, the Karnataka High Court has issued notice to the State Government in this case. The current trend as observed in the orders given by the Central Information Commission on this issue is not an outright rejection over mere procedural issues[13].

All in all, this is an unfavourable impact which is not good in law and defeats the very purpose of grievance redressal. It is an unreasonable disability which prevents people from approaching the Authority and may even lead to unfair and shady deals outside the official correspondence with the Authority and Adjudicating Officer. It might also put a burden on the lower courts and High Courts as the aggrieved will find it easier to file a civil petition rather than a complicated and conditioned application to the Authorities.  

Way Forward

In the present case, certain important suggestions can be looked into to make things clearer-

While the State Governments and the Authorities have been granted discretion in making rules and regulations, it would be better if uniformity throughout the country regarding the formalities like the form and manner of the applications and complaints. This is unless a state must cater to a special circumstance.

Free speech should not be fettered by conditions put by authorities which have been created and given powers by a Parliamentary statute. This violates the basic administrative law principles and the Constitutional principles which ultimately lead to prevention of justice and exceeding of exercise of powers by such authorities.

·         In the present case, one should remember the purpose and the ultimate aim of the act- which is to make the transactions involved in the real estate sector easier and transparent. By limiting and fettering speech in complaints, the whole process becomes more inaccessible to the common public and the piggy bank in the hands of lawyers. What it creates is an unreasonable disability.

End Notes

[i] http://legalseva.net/entries/rera/file-your-complaint-online-with-rera-punjab <as accessed on 21-12-2019>

[ii] https://www.rera.punjab.gov.in/pdf/act-rules/Real_Estate_Act_2016.pdf <as accessed on 21-12-2019>

[iii] Brett v. Brett, (1826) 162 ER 456, https://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/130519/11/11_chapter%203.pdf <as accessed on 21-12-2019>

[iv] Newspapers Ltd. v. State Industrial Tribunal, AIR 1988 SC 1979

[v] AIDS TO INTERPRETATION, p. 344, https://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/130519/11/11_chapter%203.pdf <as accessed on 21-12-2019>

[vi] https://www.rera.punjab.gov.in/pdf/punjab-peneral-regulations-forms/RERA_Punjab_Complaint_Regulations.pdf <as accessed on 22-12-2019>

[vii] Section 85- Power to make regulations: [(1) The Authority shall, within a period of three months of its establishment, by notification, make regulations, consistent with this Act and the rules made thereunder to carry out the purposes of this Act.

(2) In particular, and without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing power, such regulations may provide for all or any of the following matters, namely:–

(a) the form and manner of making application and fee payable herewith under sub-section (1) of section 4;

(b) the form of application and the fees for extension of registration under section 6;

(c) such other information and documents required under clause (f) of sub-section (1) of section 11;

(d) display of sanctioned plans, layout plans along with specifications, approved by the competent authority, for display under clause (a) of sub-section (3) of section 11;

(e) preparation and maintenance of other details under sub-section (6) of section 11;

(f) time, places and the procedure in regard to transaction of business at the meetings of the Authority under sub-section (1) of section 29;

(g) the form, manner and fees for filing a complaint under sub-section (2) of section 31;…<as accessed on 23-12-2019>

[viii] Revula Subba Rao And Anr. v. The Commissioner of Income Tax, AIR 1952 Mad 127.

[ix] Para 8, Ibid.

[x] AIR 1962 SC 305.

[xi] Benett Coleman v. Union of India, AIR 1973 SC 106.

[xii] Venkatesan, V., Setting the Limits, Volume 29 Issue 18 Frontline (Published online-08-21-2012), https://frontline.thehindu.com/static/html/fl2918/stories/20120921291809300.htm <as accessed on 24-12-2019>

[xiii] Shri Raj Kumar Jha v. Central Public Information Officer, Delhi Police, O/o the DCP, South-East District, Sarita Vihar, Delhi, Decision No. CIC/SB/A/2015/000639 Dated 12.01.2017, https://dsscic.nic.in/files/upload_decision/2017-01-17-161557639.pdf <as accessed on 23-12-2019>, Abhishek Gupta v. Punjab National Bank,  Appeal No. CIC/MP/A/ CIC/MP/A/2016/001269 on 20 December, 2016 https://indiankanoon.org/doc/7745651/<as accessed on 23-12-2019>


Pooja Ghosh Law Circa Intern

Pooja Ghosh

Author

Pooja hails from Uttaranchal University, Dehradun, and she spends most of her time in Reading, debating, writing articles and poetry. Her Interest area lies in laws for Real estate and contemporary laws. For any clarifications, feedback, and advice, you can reach her at poojaddun2011@gmail.com

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