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Good governance requires fulfilment of promises made to citizens: Delhi High Court

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The promise or assurance given by a Chief Minister of a state tantamounts to an enforceable promise, and it is the duty of the Government to enforce it, the Delhi High Court has recently ruled.

The Single-Judge Bench of Justice Prathiba M Singh said, “This court is of the opinion that the promise/assurance/representation given by the CM 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.”

A petition was filed by a set of daily wage labourers, who were unable to pay the monthly rent to their landlord; as also by the landlord, who was unable to receive the rents. The petitioners relied on an assurance given by Chief Minister of Delhi arvind Kejriwal through a press conference held in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic on March 29, 2020, wherein while requesting the landlords to postpone the collection of rent from poor tenants, the Chief Minister made a promise that if any tenant is 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. 

A translation of the speech given by the CM in the press conference says, “In a month or two, when this Corona and let’s assume after this entire mess is over, if a tenant has been unable to pay rent due to poverty, I assure you the Government will pay for it. I am talking about those tenants, who may be unable to pay some of their rent due to lack of means.”

Counsel for the petitioner Gaurav Jain submitted that when an assurance is made by the Government, citizens are entitled to seek enforcement of the same on the basis of the doctrine of legitimate expectation. He stated that the trust, which was reposed on the constitutional functionary – the CM by the citizens is completely breached, if the Government is not held to the promise made on its behalf by its highest functionary.

Per contra, Senior Counsel Rahul Mehra, along with Additional Standing Counsel Gautam Narayan, representing 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.

Relying on a catena of decisions, the Bench was of the view that the assurance or promise given by the CM is enforceable on the basis of doctrines of promissory estoppel and legitimate expectation. “Proper governance requires the Government to take a decision on the assurance given by the CM, and inaction on the same cannot be the answer. The expectation of the citizens could be that the Government would implement the promise,” observed the Bench.

“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 Court added.

The Bench directed the Delhi Government to take a decision on the implementation of the statement made by the CM on March 29, within a period of six weeks, keeping in mind the larger interest of persons to whom the benefits were intended to be extended in the said statement. 

In addition, the Bench directed the Government to frame a  scheme or policy in respect of the decision so taken, and to consider the petitioners’ case under the policy, as per the procedures prescribed therein.

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