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Opportunity of hearing is a fundamental right that cannot be denied due to Covid-19 pandemic
A Division Bench of the Bombay High Court comprising of Justices Sunil B. Shukre and Avinash G. Gharote in the case of Shri Jaidev Laxmidas Panchmatia and Another v. The Authorized Officer, Union Bank of India REED 2021 Bom 03218 held that the opportunity of hearing being part of a principle of natural justice is one of the fundamental rights and for enabling a person to realize his fundamental right, reasons such as the prevalence of COVID-19 pandemic, difficulty in virtual hearing platform, heavy workload, non-availability of dates and slots, etc., cannot be put forward by tribunals as a shelter for avoiding the corresponding duty.
The Petitioners had challenged the action of the Respondent-Bank in holding the public auction of their properties under Section 13(4) of the Securitization and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest Act, 2002 (SARFAESI Act) and sought interim relief by filing an application. The public auction of the Petitioners’ properties involved in the matter was scheduled to be held on 18 March 2021, however, despite many requests from Petitioners, the Debt Recovery Tribunal, Mumbai (DRT) refused to list the matter for hearing before this date of auction. Hence, the Petitioners approached the Bombay High Court on 17 March 2021 alleging violation of principle of natural justice by DRT and sought an interim stay to the auction by Respondent.
The High Court perused a copy of Roznama dated 12 March 2021, signed by Registrar DRT, which was placed on record by the Petitioners. It mentioned that the reasons for not listing the matter before 18 March 2021 were prevalence of COVID-19 pandemic, difficulty in virtual hearing platform, heavy workload at DRT, and non-availability of dates and slots at DRT. The High Court observed that these reasons were totally irrelevant and alien to the concept of reasonableness and justice. It stated that the opportunity of hearing is one of the fundamental principles of the doctrine of natural justice and it has been held umpteen number of times by the Supreme Court that this principle runs through Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India like a common thread and has a brooding omnipresence so far as fundamental rights are concerned. Hence, the opportunity of hearing being part of a principle of natural justice is one of the fundamental rights that cannot be denied by DRT.
Accordingly, in light of the foregoing reasons, the High Court directed the DRT to urgently hear the interim application filed by the Petitioners and decide it within a period of two weeks from 17 March 2021. Further, the public auction of the Petitioners’ properties scheduled to be held on 18 March 2021 was directed to be held after the adjudication of interim application by the DRT.