Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Delhi High Court stays single bench order directing Delhi CM to pay rent for tenants unable to do so themselves during Covid-19 pandemic as per promise

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The Delhi High Court, on Monday, stayed the operation of the Single Judge Bench’s decision, wherein it was held that a promise or assurance given by a Chief Minister of a state tantamount to an enforceable promise, and that it is the duty of the Government to enforce it. 

The Division Bench of Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh issued notice in the appeal preferred by the Delhi Government against Justice Pratibha Singh’s order passed on July 22, on a petition filed by a bunch of poor tenants, who relied on the assurance given by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to pay rent on behalf of all such tenants, who were unable to pay the rent due to poverty.

Delhi Government was represented by Senior Counsels Manish Vashisht and Rahul Mehra. Advocate Vashisht submitted that no promise was made by the Chief Minister during the press conference held on March 29 last year, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The Bench orally inquired if the Government had any intention to make the payment. “A small man will be guided by the promises,” stated the Bench. Vashisht responded that the statement was made in line of a fervent appeal to make people stay at their places, amidst the national lockdown announced in the county in March last year, on account of Covid-19 pandemic. 

Upon these submissions, the Bench was inclined to grant ad-interim stay. At this juncture, Counsel representing the petitioners in the original petition, Gaurav Jain, opposed the interim stay, arguing that that there is no prima case in favour of the appellant.

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The Bench noted,

“Looking into the impugned order and the content of the Press Conference held by the Chief Minister and also looking at the facts and circumstances of the case, there is a prima facie case in favour of the appellant. Balance of convenience is also in favour of the appellant. An irreparable loss will be caused to the appellant, if the stay as prayed for, is not granted. We, therefore, stay the operation, implementation and execution of an order of the Single Judge dated July 22, till the next date of hearing. The matter will be next heard on November 29.”

Factual Matrix

A petition was filed by a set of daily wage labourers, who were unable to pay the monthly rent to their landlords. The petitioners relied on an assurance given by the Chief Minister of Delhi through a press conference held in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, wherein while requesting the landlords to postpone the collection of rent from poor tenants, the CM made a promise that if any tenant was unable to pay the rent due to poverty, the Government would pay his/her rent on their behalf. The petitioners sought an enforcement of this promise made by the CM.

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The Single-Judge Bench headed by Justice Prathiba M. Singh underscored, “This court is of the opinion that the promise/assurance/representation given by the Chief Minister clearly amounts 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.

“The statement was not made by a Government functionary at a lower level in the hierarchy, who could be devoid of such knowledge. The CM is expected to have had the said knowledge and is expected to exercise his authority to give effect to his promise/assurance. To that extent, it would not be out of the place to state that a reasonable citizen would believe that the CM has spoken on behalf of his Government, while making the said promise. The said promise was to act as a balm on the wounds of landlords and tenants, who were severely affected as a class of citizens in Delhi,”

-the Bench added.

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