KOCHI: The Kerala High Court on Friday, January 28, 2022, observed that the collection of parking fees from customers by shopping malls is prima facie illegal. The bench added that if this was permitted, they will also collect fees for providing lift service to their customers.
When the case came up for hearing, the Kalamssery municipality sought time to file the affidavit explaining whether the parking fee can be collected by the Lulu Mall, Kochi for parking space earmarked to a building as per the permit.
Justice PV Kunhikrishnan made the oral observation while considering petitions filed by Bosco Louis and Pauly Vadakkan against the parking fee charged by the Lulu International Shopping Mall Pvt Ltd, Kochi from the customers. They also sought a directive not to collect the parking fee from their customers for parking their vehicles in the parking premises.
The counsel for Lulu submitted that the petitioner Bosco Luis is not coming to the mall so there is no issue regarding payment of the parking fee. Hence, he has no personal grievance. Then the court said that he is taking up a public interest issue.
Shopping Centres Association of India, Mumbai also filed a petition seeking to implead in the case and it was allowed by the court. The counsel for the association submitted that after the interim order of the high court, people coming to many malls in the country are refusing to pay the parking fees. The High Court had held that as per the Building Rules, sufficient area for parking space is necessary for constructing a building. Parking space is part of the building. Prima facie the owner cannot collect parking fees, the court held earlier.
The court reiterated that prima facie collecting parking fees by the malls are illegal. Then the counsel for the association submitted that in an apartment complex also there is a requirement for parking space. "What do they do with the parking space? That's being sold to the occupants," he submitted. The court said that even in the case of an apartment also, it will make a decision. "In my opinion, it's serious and illegal. Parking space is necessary for a multi-storied building. Then what's the purpose of Building Rules," asked the court.
The Association also argued that the parking space provided inside the mall is the private property of each mall operator and no Rule could be made forcing the owners of the mall to provide free parking services. There is a tendency of customers not paying parking charges after availing parking facilities provided by the malls. The parking facility provided in the malls is not simply leaving the vehicle in an open space.
Due to the large volume of customers coming with their vehicles, the parking area has to be secured with an adequate number of security guards as well as parking guides to enable proper and safe parking of the vehicles inside the building. The parking area is also secured with parking slots, counting sensors, and CCTV cameras. Apart from the huge infrastructure expenditure, the parking space is also assessed to property tax which is a huge revenue income for the local bodies.
The Association further submitted that even government authorities in airports, railway stations, corporation buildings charge parking fees and highways charge user fees at toll gates. Therefore, a different and discriminatory yardstick cannot be allowed to be taken in the case of shopping malls. Any direction for providing free parking will have a direct impact on the tax collection and cause revenue loss to the local bodies, stated the Association.
The court adjourned the case to February 21.