Refuses to interfere with Government decision to desist from renewing licences

The Madras High Court Bench here on Wednesday refused to interfere with the State Government’s decision to desist from renewing licences granted to a private firm for erecting and maintaining as many as 195 hoardings in several places within territorial limits of Tirunelveli Corporation.

A Division Bench of Justices V. Ramasubramanian and V.M. Velumani held that no licensee could claim a right for automatic renewal of licence and therefore the court was not inclined to grant any kind of interim relief especially when the Collector had accused the firm of several irregularities.

The judges pointed out that the petitioner firm was holding licences since 1994 for erecting hoardings in Tirunelveli. They were renewed periodically until May 31, 2013. However, a year before it, the Corporation enhanced the lease amount from Rs.375 to Rs.1,500 per metre.

The petitioner firm challenged the enhancement in the High Court and obtained an interim injunction. Thereafter, on December 2, 2013, the Collector issued a notice to the firm directing it to remove the hoardings as their licences had expired in the month of May itself.

Immediately, the firm approached the court and obtained an order to consider its applications for renewal and not to take any adverse action until the applications were disposed of. The Collector rejected the applications for renewal on January 3, 2014 and accused the firm of having violated licence conditions.

He pointed out that the firm had erected hoardings in excess of the permitted size. The firm approached the court once again challenging the Collector’s order and the court on January 9 this year directed it to file a statutory appeal before the State Government.

In the meantime, the officials were restrained from removing the hoardings. The State Government rejected the statutory appeal, filed under the Tamil Nadu Urban Local Bodies Licensing of Hoardings and Levy and Collection of Advertisement Tax Rules 2013, on April 11 and hence the present petition.

“For a period of one full year, from April 1, 2013 to till date, the petitioner has enjoyed the benefit of having the hoardings without a valid licence only due to pendency of the application for renewal and a few protective orders passed by this court,” the Division Bench said.

It also stated that the petitioner had been almost exercising monopoly by holding licences for 195 out of 474 hoarding sites in Tirunelveli city. Though the officials had decided not to renew any of the licences and removed as many as 237 hoardings, they could not touch the petitioner’s hoardings alone “due to successive orders of this court.”