HC upholds constitutionality of law conferring ownership of non-agricultural lands to mulageni or volamulageni tenants

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The High Court of Karnataka has upheld constitutional validity of the Karnataka Conferment of Ownership on Mulageni or Volamulageni Tenants Act, 2011, which was enacted to give full ownership on the tenants or lessee/sub-tenants or sub-lessee of non-agricultural lands on payment of compensation to be determined by the competent authority on normative basis.

Justice Krishna S. Dixit passed the order while dismissing the petitions filed by Clearence Pais of Mangaluru and several others, including Diocese of Mangalore, six of the Udupi’s eight mutts, Mulgars and Land Owners Association from Dakshina Kannada and Udupi district.

A mulageni in the Dakshina Kannada and Udupi (erstwhile South Canara) is a kind of permanent lease or a lease in perpetuity; and the lessor is called ‘mulgar’ or ‘mulidar’; the lessee is called ‘mulagenidar’; and sub-lessee who is in possession, is called ‘volamulagenidar’ in the ‘mulageni’ system.

The court held that the State Legislature was competent to this Act and the were no infirmity in the process of assent granted by the President of India for the Act under the Article 254(2) of the Constitution.

On petitioners’ contention that the Act detrimentally singling out the lessors of mulageni lands in erstwhile South Canara region is geographically discriminatory, the court said it is bit difficult to accept such countenance. The Act, though initially made applicable to Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts, can be extended by the government to other parts of the State through notification as has been provided in the law, the court pointed out.

The court also did not accept petitioners’ claim that the Act is discriminatory as it does not critically differentiate between the leases in perpetuity and leases of very long tenures such as 99 years or above.

“The legislature in its wisdom has chosen mulagenidars/volamulagenidars for a protective discrimination keeping in view the enormous difficulty being faced by them despite holding the subject properties on the basis of lease in perpetuity. All other leases are left out by the legislature in its wisdom and court cannot falter the same, when these lessees constitute a separate class,” the Court observed.

The contention of petitioners that real estate prices having skyrocketed, their properties are very valuable and therefore, the rental values long time ago stipulated in mulageni arrangements, cannot be the basis for determination of compensation, again is difficult to agree with, the Court said, while pointing out that a plea of unreasonableness, arbitrariness, proportionality, etc., always raises an element of subjectivity and therefore, courts cannot strike down a statute that too when the right to property is no longer a fundamental right.

However, the court said the grievance of the petitioners, regardless of its legal tenability, would hopefully disappear if the rate of compensation, 500 times the rental value in the absence of non-restrictive clause in the lease and 1,000 times in the case of restrictive clauses prescribed in the Act, is upwardly revised by the government.

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