Gulabo Sitabo: A Mansion Won by None

Gulabo Sitabo is an Indian film released in 2020, which revolves around one ancestral property and every character in the film trying their ways to acquire the property, Mirza, archaeology department, the builders, and tenants, to fulfil their own greediness. Mirza is the greedy husband of Fatima Begum, the owner of the ancestral property, Haveli, whose sole purpose in life is to become the owner of the property. His life starts and ends in the dreams of the property and he also states in the film that the only reason he married a 17 year elder woman, Fatima, is for the property. He did not have any children and he stated his desire for the property to be the reason, as he did not want to share the property with anyone else.

With this essay the author would like to examine if Fatima Begum was the clear and rightful owner of the property. To determine if Mirza had any legal title of the property, present or future, and if Mirza’s behavior towards the tenants was in accordance with the laws. Whether or not the tenants lived adequately in the mansion. Also, assuming the property was to be acquired by the government, to evaluate if it fulfilled the conditions of eminent domain. The essay also aims to observe certain loopholes depicted in the film with respect to a broader functioning of property laws in our country.  

In the film it was shown that Fatima Begum received the mansion from her father, who got it from their father, making it an acquisition of ancestral property. This acquisition however, was made without any legal document confirming her ownership of the property. But that is also how ancestral property transfers were made during early times, leading to differences and confusions about the ownership of the property. This is also why inheritance laws of such properties were given importance over time. Since Fatima Begum is a Muslim woman, inheritance of her father’s ancestral property will be governed under Islamic law. Under this law, property is divided in shares between male and female heirs and their ownership with respect to their share is absolute. Since there is nothing specified in the film about this detail of transfer, it is safe to say Fatima Begum’s ownership is absolute. Mirza’s longing desire and efforts to become the owner of the property can be observed throughout the film, which also leads to another issue that whether Mirza had any legal interest or right in the property. According to Muslim personal laws, “a husband is entitled to a share of ½ share in the property of the wife, if they are child less and ¼ th share in case there are children” [i] in case of absence of will. Since Mirza and Fatima Begum did not have any children, upon the death of Fatima Begum, Mirza would be entitled to ½ share in the property, if not all. But Mirza wants the entire property and for that, as the movie progresses, he tracks down all the family members of Fatima Begum, along with his lawyer. The purpose of this was to inquire about the status of living rightful legal heirs of the property, since it was ancestral and to request them to sign on the No Objection Certificate. This would reduce any chances of confusion and people reaching out later to have a rightful claim on the property and will ensure that he eventually becomes the legal heir of the mansion without any disputes. Hence, it was clear in the film that Fatima Begum is the rightful owner of the mansion and Mirza has his own plans and chances to inherit the entire property upon his wife, Fatima Begum’s death. However, Fatima Begum comes to know about the greedy intentions of her husband regarding the property and she then sells the property to her lost love, Abdul Rehman and flees away.

Fatima Begum sold the property to Abdul Rehman without providing notice to the tenants living on the property. Indian law allows tenants and landlords to be in a lease relationship without drafting of formal documents. Although it is advisable to always have a formal rent agreement because not having one, leads to many unfair advantages faced by both parties. For instance, in the film, if there existed formal rental agreements, the tenants could claim for the inconveniences caused to them from Fatima Begum, as she did not provide notice weeks prior to executing the sale deed. She should have provided a notice of a minimum of 30 days since there was an absence of formal agreement, or as per the conditions of tenancy laws governing that particular area of jurisdiction. Randomly evicting tenants from the property without any prior notice is unlawful.

Mirza’s actions and behavior towards the tenants can be judged through a series of events that constantly occur in the film. Mirza was a cringe-worthy and greedy man whose life revolved around the mansion and he was also responsible for collecting rents from the tenants, as Fatima Begum asks him about the rent collection in the film. Other than collecting rents, he is not supposed to hinder living of the tenants but he would poke his nose occasionally and a few instances to support this claim are-

Parking slip- when property is transferred or leased out to tenants, they are also entitled to receive other basic services as a part of their survival needs and enjoyment of the property. These rights are transferred along with the property and one can not infringe upon those rights. Parking spaces in lease agreements are covered under easement rights and hence, Mirza randomly asking a tenant, Baankey, for a sum of money to park his vehicle by making his own parking slip is absolutely invalid.

Stealing and selling appliances- Mirza would walk around the mansion and randomly pick up objects like electricity bulbs without knowledge or consent of the owners of the objects and thus, steal them. The next day he would sell the objects for penny amounts. He also sold the chandelier placed in the mansion without asking Fatima Begum.

Electricity- Mirza would also take out the electricity handles from electricity boards which is also absolutely unlawful. Depriving tenants of basic human needs to ensure survival like electricity is not recognised under any of our laws.

Locking up washrooms- After Baankey kicked one wall of the common washroom and the wall collapsed, Mirza locked up nearly all the washrooms in the mansion, leaving the tenants with no access to sanitation and depriving them of yet another basic human survival need.

The tenants are required to take good and reasonable care of the property and the landlords are supposed to ensure no damages are made to the property and any damage if done such cost of repairs must be met by the landlord or owner. When Baankey kicked the common washroom wall and it collapsed, Mirza asked Baankey for money to repair the damage caused by him to the wall and even in absence of rental agreements, a landlord can not ask the tenant to pay for the damage. In fact, assuming the agreement between the parties was formal, Baankey, as a tenant, could issue a notice to Fatima Begum to get the damaged repaired at the earliest, as a right guaranteed under Section 108 B (f) of Transfer of Property Act, 1882. This clause states “if the lessor neglects to make, within a reasonable time after notice, any repairs which he is bound to make to the property, the lessee may make the same himself, and deduct the expense of such repairs with interest from the rent, or otherwise recover it from the lessor”. Other than this, even the tenants created havoc on their part. Baankey lived in a room in the mansion with his mother and three sisters and paid such low sums of money as rent like Rs.30 and even occasionally defaulted on those sums. He would always give excuses and come up with new stories and lies to avoid paying the rent. This hindered the process or rather right of the landlord to charge fair rent and is also unlawful on part of Baankey as a tenant, as Section 108 B (l) also states, “the lessee is bound to pay or tender, at the proper time and place, the premium or rent to the lessor or his agent in this behalf”. But the absence of an adequate rental agreement waives off a number of rights which could have been enjoyed by the parties had they entered into an agreement. For instance, Mirza asked Baankey to pay more rent or even the amount that others living in the same space as him pay, which Baankey refused along with dues of the past. This action of Mirza is valid as there was no formal agreement made between them and “an absence of a written rent agreement means the landlord can impose increase of rent in adherence to the Rent Control Act 1948”. [ii] The constant bickering between Mirza and the tenants was disturbing each family’s right to privacy, peaceful living and enjoyment of the property.

The plot of the film takes a turn when Gyanesh Shukla, an employee at the archaeology department, comes in and pokes his nose ever since he came to know about the mansion. He knew the property was ancestral and he tried extremely hard to evict the people living in the property to include it under the heritage site as something that holds immense value, considering the fact that it was hundreds of years old. He tried to click pictures of the mansion sitting on a tree when Baankey first met him and asked him not to do so. He then entered into the mansion without Fatima Begum’s permission or of the tenants’ and without any official government order to inspect the site. By doing so, he committed trespass to private property. This is recognised as an offense under tort and criminal law, under section 441 of Indian Penal Code. It is also shown that he is a government servant and section 441 differentiates ‘authorised person’, even then the public servant can not enter the property without either consent or government orders unless the officials are from the income tax department or CBI, however in this case, Gyanesh had neither consent of the owner nor orders of the government. Despite being asked to leave from the mansion, he returned again, without the owner’s permission and official government orders. He even brought a group of people with him, who he claimed were government officials but his tone and mannerism of conversing with them made it probable that they could be tourists as well and all members of the group clicked pictures of the mansion under the name of government inspection. Trespassing and clicking pictures of any private property without the owner’s permission is violative of the law. The owner retains the authority to throw off the person within their property if they take photos without permission because then it becomes a matter of privacy and privacy must be protected and ensured at all times, unless the law provides certain provisions pertaining to certain situations.

Gyanesh Shukla also misguided the tenants solely to get the property under Heritage Site. He is seen in a constant rush in the film to get done with the procedure at the earliest because he was afraid that if Fatima Begum sells her property or creates a will before her death, he will not be able to then accomplish his motives. He is also seen making promises about LIG flats to the tenants as a mode of compensation in lieu of the mansion. This throws light on the concept on Eminent Domain.

Eminent Domain may be defined as “the power of the sovereign to acquire the property of an individual for public use. This power is based on the sovereignty of the State. Payment of just compensation to the owner of the land which is acquired is part of the exercise of this power.” [iii] The rationale behind this is that when this is done, the state will undoubtedly make the individuals lose their property. Land Acquisition Act, 1894 defines the concept and process as “taking over land for town planning, housing schemes, by a corporation controlled by the government, development scheme sponsored by the government, premises for a public office.”

There are two conditions on the basis of which the State can exercise of the power of eminent domain-

  1. The purpose of such an acquisition must be for public advantage, and,
  2. The due compensation from the public funds be made, if possible, to the one who has lost his right.

The acquisition of the property by the State must only be for public purpose. Public purpose is often misinterpreted by people and in Nand Kishore Gupta v. State of U.P., 2010 the Supreme Court stated that “merely because the benefit goes to a particular section of the society, the acquisition does not cease to be for public purpose”. [iv] And it must serve public in a broader dimension than merely serving a group of people. This judgement was upheld by the Apex Court in K.T Plantation Pvt Ltd v. State of Karnataka, 2011, and the court stated “Public purpose is a pre-condition for deprivation of a person from his property under Article 300A and the right to claim compensation is also inbuilt in that Article and when a person is deprived of his property the State has to justify both the grounds which may depend on scheme of the statute.” [v]

It was shown later in the film that Gyanesh Shukla made a deal with a local politician to help him get the property. All the other tenants were offered accommodations and among them, Baankey was promised servant quarters behind the mansion after the demolition and renovation process would be complete. Towards the end of the film, Gyanesh Shukla came with a legal notice to evict the tenants and this eviction provided no scope of compensation or alternative accommodation, as promised earlier. Thus, everyone in the film kept running in circles to acquire or reside in the mansion, everyone had their own ideas and strategies and despite people teaming up and getting betrayed, the film ended on a rather funny theme, exposing everyone’s unfair intentions with respect to the property. Mirza did not become the owner of the property he had dreamt half his life about and Baankey was homeless.






Aishwarya Says:

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