New Delhi: The Delhi High Court in a decisive judgment on Thursday ordered that promises made to citizens by a chief minister at a press conference are enforceable, and it is a requirement of good governance.
If promises are made to citizens by those who govern, the assurance so given can be enforced by the court, both on the basis of the doctrines of promissory estoppel and legitimate expectation.
As per the judgment given by the bench of Justice Pratibha M. Singh, the Delhi government has six weeks to decide on an assurance given by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on March 29, 2020 to pay the rent of migrant workers in view of the Covid-19 pandemic. He had said if any tenant is unable to pay the rent due to poverty, the government would pay his/her rent on their behalf.
The court implicitly drew a distinction between an assurance given as a political promise or one made at an election on the one hand, and a statement made by the Chief Minister on the other. In the case of the latter the citizens have a a reasonable expectation that the Chief Minister knows the background, and the number of people who would be affected by the same as also the financial implications of such a promise/assurance, in the context in which it was made.
"A statement given in a consciously held press conference, against the background of the lockdown announced due to the pandemic and the mass exodus of migrant labourers, cannot be simply overlooked. Proper governance requires the Government to take a decision on the assurance given by the Chief Minister, and inaction on the same cannot be the answer," said Justice Singh, in an 89-page judgment.
The court said it viewed the Chief Minister's promise as amounting to an enforceable promise, the implementation of which ought to be considered by the government. "Good governance requires that promises made to citizens, by those who govern, are not broken, without valid and justifiable reasons," it added.
The court said surely there must have been a large number of tenants and landlords, who would have believed the Chief Minister's assurance, and that the expectation of the citizens could be that government would implement the promise. However, when it is examining this promise and the expectation which comes with it, the question is whether there is any reason as to why the government did not even take a decision in this regard, it said.
"To that extent, insofar as the indecision is concerned, the GNCTD needed to answer the question, which it has failed to answer," the court observed.
The petitioners had contended that the Chief Minister made the promise, as the head of a government, and it was not a political statement but rather a statement made in the context of Covid-19, with an intent to prevent migration of workers.
Opposing the plea, senior advocate Rahul Mehra, representing the Delhi government, submitted the doctrine of legitimate expectation can only be based on actual governmental policy or governmental notification or an executive decision, and not on a mere political statement.The judgment came on a writ petition filed by a group of tenants and landlords led by Nazma, who sought the recovery, payment or refund of the monthly rental amount, as per the promise made by the Chief Minister.
(Based on PTI feed)