As per news reports, the union government has filed a Presidential Reference in relation to the 2G judgment. In this judgment the Supreme Court had cancelled 122 2G licences granting access to spectrum and had ordered their re-allocation by means of an auction. It also held that use of first cum first serve policy (FCFS) to allocate natural resources was unconstitutional. It had held that natural resources should be allocated through auctions. As per the news report, the Presidential Reference seeks clarity on whether the Supreme Court could interfere with policy decisions. This issue has been discussed in a number of cases. For instance, the Supreme Court in Directorate of Film Festivals v. Gaurav Ashwin Jain held that Courts cannot act as an appellate authority to examine the correctness, suitability and appropriateness of a policy. It further held that Courts cannot act as advisors to the executive on policy matters which the executive is entitled to formulate. It stated that the Court could review whether the policy violates fundamental rights, or is opposed to a Constitutional or any statutory provision, or is manifestly arbitrary. It further stated that legality of the policy, and not the wisdom or soundness of the policy, is the subject of judicial review. In Suresh Seth vs. Commissioner, Indore Municipal Corporation a three judge bench of the Court observed that, “this Court cannot issue any direction to the Legislature to make any particular kind of enactment. Under our constitutional scheme Parliament and Legislative Assemblies exercise sovereign power or authority to enact laws and no outside power or authority can issue a direction to enact a particular piece of legislation.” In the present case it may be argued that whereas the Court was empowered to declare a policy such as FCFS as unconstitutional, it did not have the jurisdiction to direct auctioning of spectrum and other natural resources. The Presidential Reference may conclusively determine the Court’s jurisdiction in this regard. However, it has been urged by a few experts that this Presidential Reference amounts to an appeal against the decision of the Court. They have argued that this could be done only through a Review Petition (which has already been admitted by the Court). The advisory jurisdiction of the Court invoked through Presidential References, is governed by Article 143 of the Constitution. Under Article 143 of the Constitution of India, the President is empowered to refer to the Supreme Court any matter of law or fact. The opinion of the Court may be sought in relation to issues that have arisen or are likely to arise. A Presidential Reference may be made in matters that are of public importance and where it is expedient to obtain the opinion of the Supreme Court. The Court may refuse to answer all or any of the queries raised in the Reference. A Presidential Reference thus requires that the opinion of the Court on the issue should not have been already obtained or decided by the Court. In the Gujarat Election Case the Supreme Court took note of Presidential References that were appellate in nature. Thus, a Presidential Reference cannot be adopted as a means to review or appeal the judgment of the Supreme Court. Against judgments of the Court the mechanisms of review is the only option. This position was also argued by Senior Advocate Fali S. Nariman in the Cauvery Water Case, where the Court refused to give an opinion. Whether the Court had the authority to determine a policy, such as FCFS, as unconstitutional is not disputed. However, there are conflicting judgments on the extent to which a Court can interfere with the executive domain. It would be interesting to see whether the Court would give its opinion on this issue. In the event it does, it may bring higher level of clarity to the relationship between the executive and the judiciary.
 AIR 2007 SC 1640
 (2002) 8 SCC 237
 (1993) Supp 1 SCC 96(II)
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.