NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court recently clarified that the authorities can consider the application filed seeking permission to conduct the famous Sunburn Music Festival in Goa in December 2023, despite the pendency of the dispute relating to the payment of Comunidade charges by the organisers.
If the permission is granted for the music festival, the Court further ordered, the organizers should pay the amount as demanded by the Comunidade by depositing the same with the Administrator of the Comunidade.
The Bench of Justices Abhay Oka and Pankaj Mittal, passed the interim order while issuing notice on a Special Leave Petition filed by the event’s organizer Spacebound Web Labs Private Lt challenging a judgment of the Bombay High Court(Goa Bench) which fixed the Comunidade charges to be payable by the petitioner as Rs. 75,00,000/- as opposed to Rs. 38,04,264/- fixed by Administrator of Comunidade and later approved by the decision of the State’s Revenue department.
The Court further directed that no coercive action shall be taken against the petitioner for non-payment of amount mentioned in the impugned judgment,subject to the condition of petitioner depositing Rs.36,95,736/- (Rupees thirty six lakhs ninety five thousand seven hundred thirty six) with the within a period of six weeks. As the issue of power of the Government to reduce the amount demanded by the Communidade is subject matter of the case, the State Government will not reduce the said amount, the Court further said.
‘Comunidade’ is a practice of landholding prevalent in Goa where land-ownership is collectively held, but controlled by the male descendants of those who claimed to be the founders of the village.
The present case revolves around the charges for temporary use of Comunidade land for holding the aforementioned music festival. Before the High Court, the writ petition was filed by the Gauncars/Zonnkars of the Comunidade of Anjuna, who are comunidade members by birth. This Comunidade is governed under the Code of Comunidades, 1961 (Code). The Comunidade holders primarily challenged the action of the administrator and the government, allowing the use of the land for the mentioned amount. The contention behind the same was that the general body of the Comunidade had resolved to grant such permission against the payment of an amount of 75,00,000 by Space bound and 16,00,000 by one Mr. John Stepen (who also applied for permission) D’Souza.
By its impugned order, the High Court quashed the government decision imposing such charges. In furtherance to this, the organisers were also not allowed to hold the same music festival till such arrears are recovered. Inter-alia, the High Court observed:
“However, based on the provision for approval, the Government cannot unilaterally set aside the resolution of the general body of the Comunidade or modify the resolution and grant such approval by modifying the charges proposed by the general body.”
Bolstering these observations, the High Court also relied upon the relevant provision of the Code and held that the same does not empower the Government to bypass the other provisions of the Code of Comunidades or to usurp the functions of the general body or even the Managing Committee.
Contentions before SC
At the foremost, the plea contended, that the High Court has quashed government’s decision without even the same being in challenge.
The petitioner has also placed its reliance on Union of India and ors. Vs Manjurani Routray 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 745, whereby it was held that “it is trite law that no certiorari would lie for striking down a decision or declaring any rules.”
Moving forward, a string of precedents was cited wherein the Top Court has consistently held that though the Court has very wide discretion in granting relief, the Court however, cannot grant relief ignoring and keeping aside the norms and principles governing grant a relief especially when the same is not even prayed for.
Adverting to the concerned provisions the plea has argued that “Under the entire code of Comunidade there is no power given to the Comunidade to decide on the quantum of rent to be charged by and the High Court proceeds on an erroneous assumption that the Comunidade is the owner of the land when in fact it is not…. The Land may be in possession of the Comunidade and the ownership is always of the State Government which is the sovereign.”
Petitioners were represented by Mr. Atmaram Ns Nadkarni, Sr. Adv; Mr. Nikhil D Pai, Adv; Mr. Salvador Santosh Rebello, AOR; Mr. Raghav Sharma, Adv; Ms. Shivangi Singhal, Adv; Ms. Arzu Paul, Adv; Ms. Deepti Arya, Adv; Ms. Manisha Gupta, Adv; Mr. Siddhant Gupta, Adv;Mr. Rishikesh Hardas, Adv.