The Supreme Court on Friday said when the public interest is so clearly articulated and is an urgent and pressing exigency, private interests must give way to the extent required.
The top court said in a democratic society governed by the rule of law, the rights of an individual carry immense importance and are the foundational blocks on which our legal, social, and political milieu thrives.
It said that under no circumstances should the rights of individual citizens be trodden upon arbitrarily and any curtailment of them must be scrutinized with utmost care.
A bench of Justices Surya Kant and Abhay S Oka, however, said that at the same time, the court must not lose sight of the fact that in several situations, the needs of the many must outweigh that of the few.
“When the public interest is so clearly articulated and is an urgent and pressing exigency, private interests must give way to the extent required”, it said.
The court’s observations were made in a verdict of a case where private individuals having the genuine title of the land have resisted the construction of a road proposed initially in the Development Plan of Mumbai in 1976 through their property from the Mahakali Caves to the Central MIDC to avoid traffic congestion.
The private individuals have approached the top court seeking quashing of the resolution of the proposed construction of the road through their properties.
The bench said, “It is important for us to take stock of the nature of the present dispute. The appellants are private citizens who have valid titles and ownership over the land in question. Without a doubt, their personal and private rights are of great importance. In a democratic society governed by the rule of law, the rights of an individual carry immense importance and are the foundational blocks on which our legal, social, and political milieu thrive”.
It said, “Under no circumstances should the rights of individual citizens be trodden upon arbitrarily and any curtailment of them must be scrutinized with utmost care”.
The bench said that at the same time, the court must not lose sight of the fact that in several situations, the needs of the many must outweigh that of the few, and “We say so not with any fervour nor as a mantra, but as a solemn acknowledgment of the realities of modern life”.
It said that the question of what constitutes “public interest” has been contemplated multiple times and the history of this Court is full of musings by different benches on the exact contours of this phrase in the context of various situations and statutes.
“It is unnecessary to belabour the point. The proposition is simply that the notion of public interest will necessarily reflect the specificities of the situation at hand. In the present case, the public interest which has been emphasized upon by Respondents (Maharashtra and BMC) is the urgent need for the creation of a connecting road through the appellants’ property. The need stems from the traffic congestion caused on the route from the Mahakali Caves to the Central MIDC”, it said.
The top court said that the lack of a direct linkage requires detours to be taken that significantly increase commuting time and cause inconvenience to the general public.
“With these considerations in mind, we deem the present case to be an appropriate instance where public interest must have paramountcy over private interest. We emphasize once again before parting that the rights of the individual must only be watered down when the necessary circumstances demanding such a drastic measure exist”, it said.
The bench noted that it has been explained to it that the plan for the road through the appellants’ property is mapped in such a way that it will not disturb the buildings that have been constructed on it.
“Given this, we consider that a suitable middle ground has been arrived at which is practical and optimally balances the competing interests between the parties”, it added.
The bench held that the Municipal Corporation of Brihanmumbai has validly exercised its powers under the Mumbai Municipal Corporation (MMC) Act to direct the acquisition of the land of private individuals.
It said that the argument by the appellants that the Maharashtra Regional Town Planning Act, 1966 (MRTP Act) maintains supremacy over the MMC Act is not the correct position of law and “in our opinion, and the two statutes exist side-by¬ side with some degree of overlap”.
It dismissed the appeals against the Bombay High Court order saying that the powers under the MMC Act remain intact even in cases where they cover a subject that is also provided for in the MRTP Act.