HC quashes govt action against 47 restaurants on fire safety

Mumbai: The Bombay High Court has set aside orders by Maharashtra authorities suspending the licences of 47 restaurants for allegedly violating fire safety norms, saying proper procedure was not followed.

Contending that they had complied with the provisions of fire saftey, the petitioners had alleged that action was taken only against those restaurants in which waitresses were employed and termed it as moral policing by officials.

The court quashed the impugned orders against the hotels of Thane Police Commissioner and Principal Secretary (Home) of Maharashtra because it said no opportunity had been given to hear these establishments before passing such notices.

Justice Ranjit More, however, ruled that it was open to the Chief Fire Officer to issue fresh notices under Section 5 of Fire Safety Act to these establishments if he is of the opinion that they have not complied with the requirements sought under earlier notices of September 13, 2014, and accordingly take steps against them.

The judge, in the recent order, also held that it is open to the Thane Police Commissioner to proceed against these restaurants and hotels on a fresh cause of action. However, before taking any action, these establishments should be granted an opportunity of hearing, the court observed.

The court, however, rejected the plea of Chief Fire Officer and Thane Municipal Corporation for a stay on its order on the ground that prima facie the hotels had complied with fire safety norms.

"Since I have come to the conclusion that the Petitioners (hotels) have made compliances of the requirements sought by the Fire Department vide its notice, it would not be appropriate to stay this order. Request for the stay is, therefore, not accepted," said the judge.

The court noted that the procedure laid down for suspending licences had not been followed by the Chief Fire Officer and instead the report was sent to Commissioner of Police whereupon the latter invoked the powers under rules and suspended the licences of these establishments.

However, under the rules, the licensing authority is authorised to suspend or cancel any licence granted under these rules for contravention of any provisions after hearing the concerned parties, the judge said.

"These licences could not have been suspended without giving an opportunity of hearing to the petitioners. I have already recorded a finding that the petitioners have complied with the requisitions sought by the Chief Fire Officer vide his notice," the judge noted.

"If the Chief Fire Officer was of the opinion that the certificates submitted by petitioners are not in compliance with the Fire Safety Act, then, of course, he could have issued notice and taken steps as provided in sections 7 and 8 of the Fire Safety Act. Instead, the Chief Fire Officer sent the report to the Commissioner of Police," the judge remarked.

"In fact, the notices under section 5 were issued by the Fire Department pursuant to the request made by the Police Commissioner vide his letter dated June 27. In these circumstances, in my opinion, the Commissioner of Police was not justified in suspending the petitioners' licences without giving an opportunity of hearing to the Petitioners to show cause as to why their licences should not be suspended," the judge observed.

The licences of these establishments were suspended for an indefinite period under the provisions of section 33(wa) of the Bombay Police Act read with Rule 222(2) of the Rules for Licencing and Controlling Places of Public Amusement (other than Cinemas) and Performances for Public Amusement, including Melas and Tamashas.

Counsel for the Petitioners Veena Thadani argued that these hotels were carrying on their business on the strength of valid licenses. It was also the case of hotels that they have been granted No-Objection Certificates by Fire Department of Thane Municipal Corporation after a detailed scrutiny and inspection of their premises.

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