The Dilution of the ‘Balance of Convenience’: Beginning of an End?
The Dilution of the ‘Balance of Convenience’: Beginning of an End?

The Dilution of the ‘Balance of Convenience’: Beginning of an End?

This article is written by Anshul Dalmia, 5th Year Student, WB National University of Juridical Sciences.

  • Introduction

Temporary injunctions can be best described as interim remedies which have been granted to ensure the preservation of the subject matter in dispute. These temporary measures prevent the extinguishment of the rights of the plaintiff till the final adjudication of the matter. They have been tools using which Courts infuse equitable principles into practice through the efficient adjudication of the principle of ‘balance of convenience’. Since the relief sought was temporary in nature, the principles for determining the same were based on a comparative notion of convenience and harm. Thus, the three prongs that needed satisfaction were firstly, the presence of a prima facie case, secondly, the balance of convenience, and thirdly, the presence of an irreparable harm.[i] This paper aims to compare and contrast the existing framework of applicability of this doctrine in light of the digressions that the Courts have taken vis-à-vis the second qualification. This paper attempts to critique the majoritarian feature of equity and posits certain policy and judicial considerations. Taking all these factors into account, the author opines that the meaning of this doctrine has been ‘diluted’ to a great extent.

  • Diversions From The Principle Of ‘Balance Of Convenience’.

There are a plethora of problems with this prong of convenience. This doctrine has been interpreted to identify the parties facing ‘comparative inconvenience and mischief’.[ii] The Court will also have to analyze which side will be subjected to more harassment if the relief is denied. The problem with this approach is that it is difficult to objectively enlist all parameters that determine the facets of inconvenience and the attributed strengths of the same.

The Courts have devised several ways to circumvent this principle of ‘balance of convenience’. Firstly, they have done so by making justifications under the head of ‘public interest’. The rationale behind this exception was to highlight the fact that the interest of society is larger than the individual interest of the applicant.[iii] Thus, even if the inconvenience caused to the petitioner, who is an individual, is higher than the inconvenience caused to the Government who is the respondent, the Courts will overlook this in terms of ‘happiness to many’.[iv] This goes against the very spirit of providing for a temporary injunction in the statute. The objective of an injunction is to ensure that irreparable damage is not caused to the petitioner. Hence, the consideration of extraneous parties such as the Government defeats the very purpose behind the provision of such a remedy. In some cases, the Courts have impliedly mandated the injunctions for private bodies to be ‘granted slowly’ if it is in violation of public interest.[v] However, there have been some certain cases where the precedent of public benefit was not applied and restricted to the facts of that case. For instance, in a case where though the petitioners had proven that there been illegal construction on some parts of the property tilting the balance of convenience in their favor, the Court considered the fact that the construction would have to be stopped resulting in delay affecting the public at large and hence the relief of a temporary injunction was denied.[vi] However, when this was used as a binding authority, the Supreme Court has deemed the facts to be specific only to those circumstances.[vii]

Recently in 2019, the Supreme Court has highlighted a different facet of the applicability of this exception.[viii] The applicants in the case were a group of slum dwellers who were illegally removed out of their homes according to the Maharashtra Slums Area Act, 1971. The defendants, the Government in this case, argued that valid consent was taken and there was proper rehabilitation done. Additionally, they argued that enormous amounts of money were spent on re-allocation and advance was paid to the developmental authority. Here, the Court accepted that the ‘balance of convenience’ was tilted in favor of the Government but denied the grant of an injunction on the basis of the presence of a ‘beneficial legislation’. The Court held that the Slums Act was a law enacted to protect the vulnerable slum dwellers in furtherance of their rights under the Constitution and this would outweigh any feature of public interest or inconvenience,[ix] thus making an exception subject to another exception.

The trajectory of interpretations before this judgment mirror the inclusion of public interest to be a fourth test that needs to be satisfied for a prayer of temporary injunction. However, recent trends depict the Courts not following this utilitarian principle but rather, protecting the rights of minorities and vulnerable groups. Hence, what needs to be noted is that the prong of inconvenience has been ignored in both the cases of either public interest or where rights under beneficial legislations have been breached. Through the above instances, the author opines that, the Court has now widened its scope and ambit to use these exceptions as either a sword or a shield.

In furtherance of the same logic, there has been the diversion from this principle on grounds of the ‘collective rights of an organization’. The principle underlying this exception is that if there has been a major change in status quo that has affected people in an enterprise than the petitioner, then the injunction would be denied even if inconvenience were greater to the individual.[x] This was elucidated in the case that dealt with the issue of seniority vis-à-vis promotion of a government officer in the Federal Office.[xi] Here, for a considerable amount of time the government hadn’t rectified its mistake of promotion of the applicant. Meanwhile, several other candidates had been validly promoted. During the adjudication of granting an injunction, the Court accepted that the applicant was faced with a lot of inconvenience than the respondent. However, there was a diversion from the strict application of law as the Court considered the pragmatic application of the same as it held that if the promotion were now granted it would “cause discontent to other members and affect the morale of the service.” Hence, a clear exception to this principle has been indoctrinated in this case law.

  • Ensuing Problems Of The Applicability Of This Doctrine

The other divergence from this principle has been through the famous use of the ‘inherent powers’ of the Court. This power has been widened to include the granting of temporary injunctions though a statutory right exists. The foundation of this argument was based on the premise that the legislature is incompetent to foresee every possible scenario and the usage of the powers of the Court was necessary to bridge the gab between justice and tyranny.[xii] This underlines the possibility of the Court digressing from the principles in the statute, to an arbitrary adjudication of rights. The fear expressed of overstepping the privilege had been predicted by Justice J.C. Shah who in his dissent in the same case held that these inherent powers must be used in cases not expressly mentioned in the procedural law.[xiii] He held these powers to be supplementary to the statute and warranted their use to be applicable sparingly.[xiv] Sadly, this remained the minority opinion and has opened the floodgate for transgression from the principles of balance of convenience.

Lastly, through the course of interpretations the Courts have developed a ‘class of reliefs’ where injunctions are not granted irrespective of the balance of inconvenience to the party. This categorization of reliefs is based on public benefit as well as on their immense magnitude and importance to the functioning of the government. These involve matters of revenue, electricity, bank guarantee et al. The Courts have warranted the grant of injunctions to be “an exception and not a rule” in the above cases.[xv] For instance, in cases regarding ‘municipalities’, the Court emphasized on the conduction of ‘essential civic services’ and the timely payment to the employees for to be imperative to the efficient functioning of these local governing bodies. They deemed any injunction to the detriment of these organization would “paralyze the administration and dislocate the entire working.”[xvi] In cases of ‘government revenue’, the Courts circumvented from this principle, as they believed that an injunction on State revenue would lead to “institutional embarrassment being eschewed”.[xvii]

However, the Courts have gone one step further to deny reliefs based on equity and diverted from the doctrine on the grounds of ‘having magnanimous effects on the administrative and financial sector’ in an issue related to the Electricity Board.[xviii] Additionally, they further went on to hold that the functionaries of the state and public sector institutions must not be affected or interfered with by issuing temporary injunctions. However, in order to construct adequate safeguards around the abuse of according injunctions, the Supreme Court increased the burden of proof from a mere prima facie case to not having the “slightest indication of a likelihood of prejudice” to the public utility.[xix]

  • Conclusion

In the above paper, the author has tried to portray the standard adopted by the Courts in this regard coupled with the problems that have streaked the process. Through the trajectory of these deflections, the Courts have considered the right of third parties as well as placed considerable merit on public policy. However, the one lingering thought that needs to be dealt with, is the majoritarian feature of equity that has been highlighted through the above digressions. In the author’s opinion, the meaning of ‘balance of convenience’ has diluted to a great extent as even in cases where there are ‘glaring inconveniences’ caused to the applicant, the relief is denied based on several other parameters the Court deems fit. The discretion of the judiciary in this adjudication of rights has been unchecked, leading to significant abuses of power, the diversions from the three-prong test have also led to a vast departure from the legislative intent and to more arbitrary grants and denials. This manifest abuse of the system must be kept in check and attempts to bridge the gap between individuals and the society must be made.

[i] Sitaram v. Banwarilal, 76 CWN 161.

[ii] Shetra Pal v. Renu, 2002 (2) WLN 384 .

[iii] State of Maharashtra v. R. N. Bhutta., (1997) 1 SCC 134.

[iv] Shiv Kumar Chadha v. Municipal Corporation of Delhi, 1993 SCC (3) 161.

[v] M.S. Shelka v. Pune Municipality, (1995) 3 SCC 33.

[vi] Nizam Uddin v. Nagar Nigam, 2008 (2) AWC 1496.

[vii] Sir Dinshaw Fardunji Mulla, The Code of Civil Procedure, 3360 (18 edn., 2011).

[viii] Lullu Vas v. State of Maharashtra, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 261.

[ix] Commissioner v. B. Torbole v., (2015) 6 SCC 534.

[x] Ranbir Chandra v. Union of India, ILR II Del. 241 (1978).

[xi] K.R. Raghavan v. Union of India, ILR II Del. 1 (1979).

[xii] Manohar Lal Chopra v. R.B. Raja Seth Hiralal, AIR 1962 SC 527.

[xiii] Ibid at ¶ 43.

[xiv] Ibid at ¶ 44.

[xv] Municipality Of Kolkata v. Das, AIR 1984 SC 653.

[xvi] Ibid at ¶ 653 and ¶ 654.

[xvii] Municipality Of Kolkata v. Das, AIR 1984 SC 653.

[xviii] Aziz Traders v. Electricity Board, AIR 1976 Guj 145.

[xix] Collector of Central Excise v. Dunlop India Ltd., AIR 1985 SC 330.

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