Promises by CM Enforceable
Promises of government and its authorities are judicially enforceable subject to conditions
In the High Court of Delhi at New Delhi
W.P (C) of 8956/2020
NAJMA …………….. Petitioner
GOVT. OF NCT OF DELHI …..…… Respondent
On 22nd July 2021, the High Court of Delhi ruled that a promise, assurance or representation given by Chief Minister (CM) of a State amounts to an enforceable promise and the same has to be implemented by the government. A look at the facts, issues and the judgment which has a bearing on the functioning of government / authorities.
- In March 2020 a nationwide lockdown was declared due to the Covid19 pandemic resulting in large scale exodus of migrants and daily labourers losing their jobs and livelihood. On 29th March 2020, the Chief Minister (“CM”) of Delhi gave a press conference in which he requested all landlords to postpone the demand/collection of rent from those tenants who are poor, and poverty stricken. Further, he made a statement that if any tenant is unable to pay the rent due to poverty, the government would pay his/her rent on their behalf.
- The petitioner is a daily wage labourer who claim that they are tenants unable to pay their monthly rent.
- The petitioner seeks recovery / payment / refund of the monthly rental amount as the statement made by the CM in the press conference is a promise made by him, a solemn assurance that the government would take care of the tenants. Such promise can be enforced by invoking doctrine of legitimate experience and the doctrine of promissory estoppel.
- Whether the doctrine of legitimate expectation can be invoked in the absence of a clear governmental policy?
- Whether the present writ petition itself would be maintainable?
- The counsel representing the petitioner, one of the few daily wage workers who has filed this writ petition has contended that in the press conference the CM made a clear promise that if any tenant is unable to pay the rent due to poverty, the government would pay his/her rent on their behalf. A solemn assurance was given that the government would take care of the tenants.Such clear and categorical assurance would bind the government and hence people like the petitioner(s) are entitled to seek payment / reimbursement of their rent for the period of the lockdown. He further reiterated that if the tenants do not pay the rent, the landlords are also entitled to reimbursement of rent from the government.The counsel stated that it is the settled position in law that a policy decision is not needed in order for the writ petition to be maintainable. Being the head of the Government, the statements made by the CM can be held to be binding on himself and also the Government. Relying on judgments passed in The State of Jharkhand & Ors. v. Brahmaputra Metallics Ltd., Ranchi & Anr., 2021 (1) SCJ 131, he stated that the CM’s statement would not lose significance in absence of it being a formal policy.
- The counsel submitted that the Right to shelter is a fundamental right and the government having made a representation (in the form of press conference / statement given by the CM) would be bound by the said representation. If not enforced, the trust reposed by the people on the CM would be completely breached. Since the statement /promise seeks to protect interests of both the tenants and landlords, this writ petition is maintainable.
- It is submitted that for the period of lockdown, the government should be directed to reimburse rental amounts that the petitioners have incurred.
- The counsel appearing on behalf of the respondent – the Delhi government submitted that the doctrine of legitimate expectation can only be based on actual governmental policy or a governmental notification or an executive decision, and not on a mere political statement. Unless and until there is an actual Governmental policy which has been formally issued, a promise cannot be the mere basis of a claim based on the doctrine of legitimate expectation. He relied on the judgments passed in the cases State of Bihar v. Kalyanpur Cement (2010) 3 SCC 274 and Manuelsons Hotels Private Limited v. State of Kerala (2016) 6 SCC supporting his contention.
- He countered the submission of the petitioner relying on the judgment passed in State of Punjab v. Nestle India Limited & Ors., (2004) 6 SCC 465 by stating that in the quoted case, the statement given by the Chief minister (abolishing purchase tax on milk produce) was reiterated by the finance minister and a circular was issued to effect the policy.
- The counsel further submitted that in State of Bihar v. Sachindra Narayan & Ors., (2019) 3 SCC 803 that the pious hope of a citizen cannot be the basis for claim based on the doctrine of legitimate expectation. A moral obligation cannot be the basis of legitimate expectation until and unless a crystallized right exists.
- Relying on the judgment passed in Gaurav Jain v. Union of India & Anr. [W.P.(C) 3519/2020, the present writ petition itself not maintainable.
The Court observed that in a democracy persons elected to an office, especially heads of government, State and those holding responsible positions are expected to make responsible assurances / promises to their citizens, especially in times of crisis. This is because, when a statement or assurance if given by the head of a State, there would obviously be an expectation that such assurance or promise would be given effect to.
Particularly in the backdrop of Covid19, there would have been large number of tenants / landlords who would have believed the CM and not even returned / migrated to their native places.
The Court was of the view that a statement given in a consciously held press conference, in the background of the lockdown announced due to the Covid19 pandemic and the mass exodus of migrant laborers could not be simply overlooked. The statements made by persons in power are trusted by the public who repose faith and believe in the same.
“Puffing” may be permissible in commercial advertising, but not permissible in governance”.
The Court concluded that an assurance given by the CM, in a press conference, i.e. a public platform, even without resulting in a formal policy or an order on behalf of the government, would create a valuable and legal right by applying the doctrine of promissory estoppel.
The Court passed the following directions:
- The Delhi government should, having regard to the statement made by the CM on 29th March 2020 to landlords and tenants, take a decision as to the implementation of the same within a period of 6 weeks.
- The said decision would be taken, bearing in mind the larger interest of the persons to whom the benefits were intended to be extended in the said statement, as also any overriding public interest concerns.
- The Delhi government would frame a clear policy in this regard.
- If a Scheme or Policy is announced, the Petitioners’ case be considered under the said Scheme/Policy as per the procedure prescribed therein, if any. Remedies against any decision taken are left open.
Full text of the Judgment: