The Bombay High Court imposed a fine of Rs 5 lakh on Hotel Leela Venture Limited for “forum-hunting” by seeking that their pleas, challenging eviction proceedings initiated against it by the Airports Authority of India (AAI), be heard by a single judge bench.
The AAI had, in February last year, issued an eviction notice to Hotel Leela Venture, which runs a five-star hotel near the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, for non- payment of dues.
The Airports Authority initiated the procedure to evict the hotel and reclaim 29,000 sq m land it stands on for non-payment of dues and flouting other terms of agreements.
The hotel company had then filed two petitions in high court — one challenging the notice and the other against the eviction proceedings.
It had also filed an arbitration petition seeking to amicably resolve the dispute.
Initially, the hotel’s counsels sought for all the matters to be heard by a division bench.
The petitions were then placed before a division bench of Justices A S Oka and Riyaz Chagla.
However, the hotel’s lawyer, Deepak Khosla, said that the arbitration petition can be heard only by a single judge bench.
“The arbitration petition should be transferred to a single judge bench and the other two petitions should also be clubbed along with it,” Khosal told the court.
The division bench, however, got irked with this and said earlier the hotel’s lawyers had moved the high court’s chief justice seeking for all petitions to be clubbed and heard by a division bench.
“This is a clear abuse of the process of law. This is forum-hunting (bench-hunting). We deprecate such behaviour by litigants,” Justice Oka said.
The bench imposed a fine of Rs 5 lakh on the hotel and directed it to deposit the amount within four weeks.
The court also vacated an interim relief granted by it earlier by which it had stayed the eviction proceedings initiated by the AAI against the hotel before an eviction officer.
“The stay on the eviction proceedings initiated by us before the eviction officer under Chapter 5 (A) of the Airports Authority of India Act has been vacated by the court. This means the proceedings can begin,” AAI counsel Ashutosh Kumbhakoni said.
According to the AAI, Hotel Leela Venture had defaulted on payments and also violated certain other clauses in their agreement. The AAI had initially asked the hotel to repay dues or hand over possession of the land.
When the company failed to do either, AAI issued the eviction notice and later initiated the eviction proceedings.