The doctrine of separation of powers implies that each pillar of democracy – the executive, legislature and the judiciary – perform separate functions and act as separate entities. The executive is vested with the power to make policy decisions and implement laws. The legislature is empowered to issue enactments. The judiciary is responsible for adjudicating disputes. The doctrine is a part of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution even though it is not specifically mentioned in its text. Thus, no law may be passed and no amendment may be made to the Constitution deviating from the doctrine. Different agencies impose checks and balances upon each other but may not transgress upon each other’s functions. Thus, the judiciary exercises judicial review over executive and legislative action, and the legislature reviews the functioning of the executive. There have been some cases where the courts have issued laws and policy related orders through their judgements. These include the Vishakha case where guidelines on sexual harassment were issued by the Supreme Court, the order of the Court directing the Centre to distribute food grains (2010) and the appointment of the Special Investigation Team to replace the High Level Committee established by the Centre for investigating black money deposits in Swiss Banks. In 1983 when Justice Bhagwati introduced public interest litigation in India, Justice Pathak in the same judgement warned against the “temptation of crossing into territory which properly pertains to the Legislature or to the Executive Government”. Justice Katju in 2007 noted that, “Courts cannot create rights where none exist nor can they go on making orders which are incapable of enforcement or violative of other laws or settled legal principles. With a view to see that judicial activism does not become judicial adventurism the courts must act with caution and proper restraint. It needs to be remembered that courts cannot run the government. The judiciary should act only as an alarm bell; it should ensure that the executive has become alive to perform its duties.”  While there has been some discussion on the issue of activism by the judiciary, it must be noted that there are also instances of the legislature using its law making powers to reverse the outcome of some judgements. (M.J. Antony has referred to a few in his article in the Business Standard here.) We discuss below some recent instances of the legislature overturning judicial pronouncements by passing laws with retrospective effect. On September 7, 2011 the Parliament passed the Customs Amendment and Validation Bill, 2011 which retrospectively validates all duties imposed and actions taken by certain customs officials who were not authorized under the Customs Act to do the stated acts. Some of the duties imposed were in fact challenged before the Supreme Court in Commissioner of Customs vs. Sayed Ali in 2011. The Supreme Court struck down the levy of duties since these were imposed by unauthorised officials. By passing the Customs Bill, 2011 the Parliament circumvented the judgement and amended the Act to authorize certain officials to levy duties retrospectively, even those that had been held to be illegal by the SC. Another instance of the legislature overriding the decision of the Supreme Court was seen in the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2009 which was passed into an Act. The Supreme Court had ruled that the price at which the Centre shall buy sugar from the mill shall include the statutory minimum price (SMP) and an additional amount of profits that the mills share with farmers. The Amendment allowed the Centre to pay a fair and remunerative price (FRP) instead of the SMP. It also did away with the requirement to pay the additional amount. The amendment applied to all transactions for purchase of sugar by the Centre since 1974. In effect, the amendment overruled the Court decision. The executive tried to sidestep the Apex Court decision through the Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Ordinance, 2010. The Court had issued a writ to the Custodian of Enemy Property to return possession of certain properties to the legal heir of the owner. Subsequently the Executive issued an Ordinance under which all properties that were divested from the Custodian in favour of legal heirs by a Court order were reverted to him. The Ordinance lapsed and a Bill was introduced in the Parliament. The Bill is currently being examined by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs. These examples highlight some instances where the legislature has acted to reverse judicial pronouncements. The judiciary has also acted in several instances in the grey areas separating its role from that of the executive and the legislature. The doctrine of separation of powers is not codified in the Indian constitution. Indeed, it may be difficult to draw a strict line demarcating the separation. However, it may be necessary for each pillar of the State to evolve a healthy convention that respects the domain of the others.
 Keshavananda Bharti vs. State of Kerala AIR 1973 SC 1461
 Bandhua Mukti Morcha AIR 1984 SC 802
 Aravali Golf Club vs. Chander Hass (2008) 1 SCC (L&S) 289
 Supreme Court in Commissioner of Customs vs. Sayed Ali (2011) 3 SCC 537
 Mahalakshmi Mills vs. Union of India (2009) 16 SCC 569
The Union Cabinet approved the Model Tenancy Act, 2021 on June 2, 2021, for adoption by state and union territory governments. The Model Act has three primary objectives. First, it aims to regulate renting of residential and commercial premises by establishing conditions for tenancy, eviction, and management of the property. Second, in regulating tenancy, it proposes mechanisms to balance and protect the rights of landlords and tenants. Last, it proposes a three-tier adjudicatory mechanism consisting of Rent Authorities, Rent Courts, and Rent Tribunals for speedy adjudication of tenancy related disputes.
However, note that rental housing is regulated by states as land, land improvement, and control of rents falls under the State List of the Indian Constitution. This Model Act is only a proposed framework that states and union territories may alter when passing their own tenancy laws.
In this blog, we provide a background on the rental housing market and explain some issues with the 2021 Model Act.
Need for the Act
In India, 95% of households in rural areas live in self-owned housing, and rental housing is a predominantly urban phenomenon. Between 1951 and 2011, the urban population in India grew by six times and as of 2011, comprises 31% of the total population. This is projected to grow to 40% by 2036. However, the share of persons living in urban rental accommodation has decreased from 58% to 27% between 1961 and 2011. The 2015 draft National Urban Rental Housing Policy noted that urban areas face a significant housing shortage and stated that this cannot be addressed by home ownership. In 2012, a Technical Group studying urban housing shortage estimated the urban housing shortage to be at 1.9 crore units. The 2011 Census noted that between 6.5 crore to 10 crore people (17% to 24% of the urban population) live in unauthorised housing in urban areas. The Economic Survey (2017-18) noted that rental housing is a key way to address informality and shortage. It stated that rental housing enables mobility and affordability for low-income segments, who may not be able to purchase housing. It also observed that a significant portion of urban rental housing stock is vacant, attributing it to unclear property laws, poor contract enforcement, and rent control laws.
State governments regulate rental housing through various legislative tools including rent control laws. To prevent landlords from charging exorbitant rent and ensure affordable housing, these laws specify a ceiling on rent and put conditions on eviction of tenants. The 2015 draft Policy noted that rent control laws discourage private investment in rental properties. It observed that rent control laws also skew arrangements towards tenants and lead to more litigation. This has eroded the trust of landlords in the regulatory system. A significant share of the rental demand is addressed through alternate arrangements such as leave and license agreements and informal leases.
A model law to regulate tenancy was first proposed in 1992. The first draft Model Tenancy Act was released in 2015, which was adopted by Tamil Nadu. However, as of 2021, 20 states including Karnataka, Maharashtra, and West Bengal continue to have rent control laws. A few states including Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh have repealed their rent control laws.
Besides its key objectives, the Model Act also seeks to ensure affordability, formalisation and increase private investment in the rental housing market. The framework proposed under the Model Act may address some of these concerns. However, experts have recommended supplementing this with other policy initiatives to meet these objectives. For instance, a 2012 Technical Group observed that about 96% of the urban housing shortage pertains to the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) and Lower Income Group (LIG) categories. The 2015 draft Urban Rental Housing Policy noted that a repeal of rent control laws may increase private investment and availability of rental housing. However, it has recommended several other measures to ensure affordability of rental housing. These include: (i) provision of incentives such as tax exemptions and subsidies to tenants and home owners, (ii) encouraging public-private partnerships and residential rental management companies, and (iii) enhancing access to finance within the EWS and LIG sectors.
Concerns for right to privacy
The Model Act requires all landlord and tenants to intimate the Rent Authority about a rental agreement with a prescribed form. The form requires both the tenant and the landlord to submit their Aadhaar numbers and attach self-attested copies of the card with the form. This may violate a 2018 Supreme Court judgement, which states that requiring Aadhaar card or number can be made mandatory only for expenditure on a subsidy, benefit or service incurred from the Consolidated Fund of India. Registering a tenancy agreement does not entail these, therefore making Aadhaar number mandatory for registering a tenancy may violate the judgement.
The Model Act also states that tenants and landlords will be provided with a unique identification number after registering a rental agreement. Details of the agreement along with other documents will be uploaded on the Rent Authority’s website. It is unclear if personal details of the parties such as PAN and Aadhaar number, which must be submitted along with the agreement, will also be made available publicly. If these are shared on the website, this may violate the right to privacy of the involved parties. The Supreme Court has included the right to privacy as a fundamental right. This right may be infringed only if three conditions are met: (i) there is a law, (ii) the law achieves a public purpose, and (iii) the public purpose is proportionate to the violation of privacy. Sharing personal information of individuals may not serve a public purpose, and hence may violate the right to privacy of such individuals.
The preamble of the 2021 Model Act and the background note accompanying the 2020 draft Model Act state that it seeks to establish a speedy adjudication mechanism for disputes linked to tenancy agreements. The Model Act specifies the timelines for resolution of cases linked with eviction and payment of rent. However, timelines have not been specified for certain cases. For instance, no timeline has been specified within which the Rent Authority must resolve a dispute on withholding of essential services or revision of rent.
Specification of minute details
The Model Act seeks to balance the tenant-landlord relationship by specifying rights and duties of both parties. However, it also caps the maximum possible security deposit amount that a tenant must pay to the landlord. Further, a suggestive framework for the rental agreement also includes minute details on responsibility for repair and maintenance. If codified, these specifications may hinder flexibility in framing tenancy agreements.
For a PRS analysis of the Model Tenancy Act 2021, please see here.