Case Note: Where should public notices be posted before town limits are altered?

In State of Karnataka and others v Vasavadatta Cement and Others (Civil Appeal 1918 of 2015) the Supreme Court heard an appeal on how states are required to give public notice before altering the limits of a municipality. The case was decided on 16th February 2015 by a bench of Justice SJ Mukhopadhay and Justice Vikramjit Sen.

The case concerned a proposed alteration to the limits of Sedam Municipal Council in the State of Karnataka. The Council is regulated by the provisions of the Karnataka Municipalities Act, 1961. Section 9 of that Act provides a public notice must be provided at least thirty days before the limits of a municipality are altered. The section further provides that this notice must comply with three requirements:

  • Firstly, the proclamation for alteration must be published in the State Gazette, in both, English and Kannada
  • Secondly, the proclamation must be posted in ‘conspicuous places’ in the local area in Kannada, and
  • Thirdly, the proclamation should call upon all people who object to the alteration, to submit their objections in writing, within thirty days of the notice.

In the case of the Sedam Municipal Council, the proposal was to include certain surrounding areas within the jurisdiction of the Council. This included some factories, and a township for employees belonging to the Respondents. The State Government had the proclamation posted at four places in the local area: the panchayat office in Sedam’s Old Bazaar, the Railway Station at Sedam, the bus stand at Sedam, and the notice board of the Sedam Municipal Council.

The Respondent factories argued that the notice had not been posted in near or at their factories, and consequently, they had not received adequate public notice. They claimed, accordingly, that the second requirement under Section 9 had not been met. The Respondent claimed that the proclamation should be posted at every area that was proposed to be added or removed from the council limits. The State, in turn, argued that the requirements of Section 9 had been met, and so there was no defect in their procedure.

The Supreme Court held in favour of the State. Section 9, the Court held, had to be interpreted in light of the Constitution’s Article 243Q. The implication was that

“the Office of the Collector, Panchayat Office, Office of Tehsildar, Office of municipality, railway station and bus stand, etc. of the local area are public places; which are expected to be visited by general public for one or the other reason. Those places can be safely expected to be conspicuous/convenient places for posting a notice about declaration of local area to be smaller urban area or altering the limit of any such smaller urban area as is done in the case of land acquisition.”

Allowing the respondent’s claim, said the Court, would effectively require the State to give individual notice to each affected applicant, which was impractical.

The Court also noted that there appeared to be some irregularity with the documents submitted by the State Government to the Court: one mentioned four locations for the public notice, but another document submitted bearing the same number, indicated five more locations. The Court directed the State to inquire into this irregularity, and if necessary, to register criminal complaints against the officers concerned.

This is an important judgment, containing a welcome clarification on the locations that constitute ‘conspicuous places’ or city limits alteration notices.

This is an important judgment, containing a welcome clarification on the locations that constitute ‘conspicuous places’ for city limits alteration notices.