The Karnataka High Court on Wednesday dismissed a petition by the management of Windsor Manor Sheraton and Towers in Bangalore challenging the applicability of the Public Premises Act to it and cancelling the lease to it.

Justice H.N. Nagmohan Das passed the order on a petition by the star hotel which had challenged the 2001 decision of the Wakf Board to cancel the lease.

The hotel — ITC Hotels Ltd., New Delhi, and ITC Hotel Windsor Sheraton — had challenged the order of August 12, 2002 of the Competent Officer under the Karnataka Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act 1974, and the Chief Executive Officer of the Karnataka State Board for Wakfs initiating eviction proceedings against it.

It questioned the constitutional validity of Section 2 (e) (v) of the 1974 Act as substituted by the Karnataka Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupation) Act, 1999.

30-year lease

Assailing the cancellation of the lease, ITC said it was incorporated as a corporation in 1956. It said the Windsor Manor building was initially known as Baqarabad (also as Bedford House) and belonged to Aga Ali Askar, a Shia Muslim, who on October 10, 1880, willed it to the Wakf Board. On October 15, 1973 the board executed a lease for 30 years in favour of Monarch Corporation.

Monarch, it said, later assigned the lease in favour of Vishwakarma Hotel Ltd. (which later came to be known as ITC Hotels).

The hotel said it had been in lawful possession of the property since September 13, 1974.

It said the Competent Officer did not have the jurisdiction to pass the eviction order or proceed against it under the Karnataka Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupation) Act.

It urged the court to stay further proceedings in the case.

Defending the cancellation of lease, the Wakf Board said the hotel was paying rent far less than the market value for the 1.66 lakh square feet property on prime land. This was inadequate and the hotel was occupying the land on the basis of an instrument that had no sanctity under the law.

Justice Nagmohan Das upheld the validity of the Public Premises Act and dismissed the petition by the hotel management.

Reaction

Minister for Wakfs and Minorities Welfare Mumtaz Ali Khan welcomed the High Court judgment and said the dispute between the hotel and the board is a classic case of misuse of the Wakf Act by some past leaders of the community.

He said in his personal opinion there are two options now. The management of the hotel could be taken over by the Board or there could be a fresh lease between the parties.