The Supreme Court of India upheld the constitutional validity of the Punjab Religious Premises and Land (Eviction and Rent Recovery) Act, 1997. A bench comprised of Justice NV Ramana, Justice Sanjiv Khanna and Justice Krishna Murar believed that the separate treatment of properties of religious institutions is in accordance with Article 14 of the Constitution of India.
The present petition challenged the order passed by the Punjab and Haryana HC that quashed the claim that the tenants of religious institutions were discriminated against by creating an artificial distinction in the said act. The court in this regard held that a multitude of central and state legislation treat religious institutions with or without charitable institutions as separate identities. The Court referred to some previous cases where the apex court had observed that the granting of special status to religious buildings does not infringe the equal protection clause of Article 14.
The apex court cited the case of Ashoka Marketing Ltd v Punjab National Bank 1940 4 SCC 406 where the claim to evict unauthorized occupants from public places was rejected. The reason stated for this act was that in case of dealing with the occupants, the state would act in public interest and not as a private landlord. Thus the court concluded that it is right to assume that the religious institution is a public structure meant to serve the public purpose for which they had been established.
Harbhajan Singh vs. the State of Punjab, Civil Appeal No. 3674 of 2009