Case Comment: Municipal Council, Ratlam vs Shri Vardhichand

Municipal Council, Ratlam vs. Shri Vardhichand

AIR 1980 SC 1622

Facts of the Case

Inhabitants of Ratlam city situated in the state of Madhya Pradesh were the petitioners. Some of the residents of Ratlam city recorded complaint before Sub-Divisional Magistrate of Ratlam city claiming that municipality of that area is not constructing appropriate drains as needed and because of excretion created by nearby slum dwellers resulted into stench and stink in that area which led public nuisance to the petitioners of the case. The Sub Divisional Magistrate of Ratlam district directed the municipality to prepare a proper set-up plan within 6 months of the objection put together by the residents of Ratlam city. The instructions by the Sub-Divisional Magistrate to the municipality were affirmed by High Court. Thereafter, the municipality came in allure under the steady gaze of the apex court of India and claimed that they don’t have appropriate financial support as well as proper funds to conform to the instruction given by the sub-divisional magistrate of Ratlam city. From that point forward, Supreme Court provides guidance to the municipality to follow the instructions given by the Sub-Divisional magistrate under Section 123 of Municipality Act, 1961 and said that lack of funds is not a defense to carry out the basic duties done by the local authorities of a particular region.

Issue to the Case

The issue under the steady gaze of the court was whether the region’s monetary failure to actualize the program absolved it from statutory liability or not.

Arguments from Petitioner

Municipal Council contended on the ground that the inhabitants of that locality have picked that area with their own decision and proprietors of the house completely aware of the unsanitary conditions winning there. Thereby the owner of the houses precluding their right to the complaint about the insanitary condition prevailing there. Municipal Council additionally argued that there was impediment of financial resources for the development of and provision of services to fulfill the instructions given by the Sub Divisional Magistrate of Ratlam city.

Arguments from Respondent

Respondents contended that the Municipality of Ratlam city had neglected to meet its duties provided by the sub-divisional magistrate to accommodate public health including by neglecting to decrease pollution and other hazardous waste from affecting their homes. Respondents centered to stop pollution brought by runoff from a nearby alcohol plant, moderation of open waste that gathered in open pools and inadequately drained areas, mitigation of malaria resulting from standing water, and the production of sanitary facilities to forestall the flow of human waste into their neighboring areas.


Justice Krishna Iyer distinguished the provisions in the IPC and Criminal Procedure Code identifying with the law of public nuisance and deciphered them in the current case.

Initially, the extent that the statutory obligation goes, the municipality cannot avoid its obligation disregarding its rule book/legislation which puts a positive obligation on it.

Secondly, the court considered the aspect of public nuisance in contravention of Section 133 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

Section 133 to Section 143 of the Criminal Procedure Code are unique provisions that lay down procedural as well as substantive law. They are also called “summary remedies”. Section 133 sets out the authorities of Magistrate/Sub Div. Magistrate along with the process where a “conditional order” can be given. For example, one can truly constrain a police officer to take action which can be passed on to the magistrate who issues show-cause notice concerning the reason asking the violator why the conditional order shouldn’t be passed. He needs to appear before the magistrate for the equivalent. This order can be hence emptied (if compiled with) otherwise can be made perpetual.

A public authority’s direction cannot be defied and if not followed is punishable under section 188 of the IPC 1860. Section 188 of the IPC, mandates the satisfaction of the following ingredients to constitute a violation,

  • A lawful order promulgated by an authority/public servant
  • Knowledge of the order
  • Disobedience of that order
  • The result likely to follow due to disobedience of such order

For it to constitute an offense under this section, disobedience should have a consequence attached[1] like annoyance or obstruction. In this case, the consequence is closely related to a public nuisance as non-compliance with the magistrate’s order would lead to health and environmental issues. The municipality took the usual defense taken against this section which was that the order was wrong in the sense that they lacked funds. The court determined this privilege of the citizens as a “human right” and shortage of funds is no reason which can stand against quite a right. The court in this regard said, “Decency and dignity are non-negotiable facets of human rights and are the first charge on local self-governing bodies. Similarly, providing drainage systems-not pompous and attractive, but in working condition and sufficient to meet the needs of the people-cannot be evaded if the municipality is to justify its existence”

The court also opined that such self-defense is disgraceful as the municipality has funds to fight the case but not alleviate the problems faced by the public. It says, “Had the municipal council and its executive officers spent half this litigative zeal on cleaning up the street and constructing the drains by rousing the people’s sramdan resources and laying out the city’s restricted financial resources, the people’s necessities may have been to a great extent met sometime in the past.”

The court observed that the order under section 133 Criminal Procedure Code is obligatory and mandatory for the municipality to abide by and the plea of financial inability is totally unjustified in such cases where public nuisance is caused. This section additionally facilitated the reason for Social justice and rule of law in light of international developments and the position India took concerning the environment. Therefore the municipality was directed to come out with a plan and comply with the order of the magistrate.

Adding to the above discussion court also cited the Gobind Singh case[2] which involved the magistrate directing the owner of the bakery to demolish his oven and chimney as it made a burden on the public at large under the significant sections talked about above. The Supreme Court subsequently did not totally concur with the complete closure which would shut down the baker’s trade (asking a baker to cease trade), yet depended on the discoveries of the Sub Divisional magistrate in the local inspection of the site. This was a change in position from the earlier precedents[3] in which the court questioned the “scientific evidence” or the findings of the magistrate. Therefore the court took a positive aspect from the judgment in Gobind Singh case and quoted it, “We are of the opinion that in a matter of this nature where what is involved is not merely the right of a private individual but the health, safety, and convenience of the public at large, the safer course would be to accept the view of the learned Magistrate, who saw for himself the hazard resulting from the working of the bakery.”


[1]. Lachhmi Devi [(1930) 58 Cal 971]

[2]. AIR 1979 SC 143

[3]. AIR 1926 Pat 506 and AIR 1958 MP 350

Author: Ayush Patria,
Sangam University, Bhilwara (Rajasthan); 3rd Year; Law Student

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