Next hearing posted to March 30
Bengaluru: The Karnataka High Court yesterday directed the State Government to place on record all the Cabinet notes, relevant documents and files regarding the extension of lease of land to Mysore Race Club (MRC). The Court observed that public property cannot be squandered by the Government.
The observation was made by a High Court Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice S. Vishwajith Shetty while hearing of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) challenging the Government decision to extend the lease of land to the MRC.
On Jan. 17, 2020, the Government extended the lease of 139.39 acres of land — owned by Public Works Department — in Survey Number 4 and 74 at Kurubarahalli in Mysuru (with retrospective effect) from July 1, 2016 till July 31, 2046 on a rent of merely 2 percent gross annual income of MRC.
Subsequently, Bengaluru-based advocate S. Umapathi filed the PIL challenging the Government’s decision. On Feb. 1, 2020, the Court had directed the Government to file objections by Feb. 18 regarding the PIL.
Perusing the statement of objections filed by the Government yesterday, the Bench observed that the stand taken by the Government — that it was a prerogative decision taken in the interest of boosting sporting activities and also considering that Mysuru is a tourist destination — was shocking.
‘SC order given a go-by’
The Bench pointed out that as per Supreme Court’s order, a State Government cannot partake with its property without putting the same up in the public auction. This SC order has been given a go-by in the decision to extend the lease, the Court noted. The Bench asked the Government on what basis the decision was taken to extend the lease with a recoverable rent equivalent to 2 percent of the MRC’s annual income.
Following this observation, the Bench directed the Government to submit documents and files of the lease extension decision including the notes made by the Cabinet. Along with the Cabinet notes, the Court asked the Government to produce documents that made it to pass such an order and told the Government that documents and Cabinet notes have to be submitted before Mar. 26. The next hearing has been posted to Mar. 30.
On Feb. 1, the Court had asked the MRC to submit whether the Government has permitted it to further sub-lease a portion of the land to Jayachamaraja Wadiyar Golf Club (JWGC).
The Bench had also directed the petitioner to implead JWGC as the Government had permitted the MRC to enter into a separate agreement with JWGC for use of this land. The Bench asked how the rent equivalent to two per cent of the income is recoverable if the club claimed losses.
In his petition, Umapathi said that 139.39 acres of land was leased out to MRC in 1970. The lease was renewed from time to time and eventually expired in 2016. He claimed that lease was contrary to the provision of the Karnataka Land Revenue Rules and resulted in huge loss to the State exchequer.
The petitioner also alleged that MRC was using the land illegally between 2016 and 2020 despite expiry of lease period and the Government had not collected rent from it for this period. The petitioner contended that the lease was extended retrospectively without following the due process of law. He alleged in his PIL that the State exchequer suffered losses as the rent was too low for a huge parcel of Government land and claimed that the lease was not of any public interest.