Uttarakhand High Court imposes cost and dismisses PIL assailing tender process for Operation and Maintenance of 27 Urban Primary Health Centres

The Uttarakhand High Court imposed a cost of Rs 25,000 on the petitioner and dismissed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) assailing the entire tender process for Operation and Maintenance of 27 Urban Primary Health Centres (UPHCs) across Uttarakhand for the year 2022-23.

The petitioner seeks a further direction that the tender process for the maintenance of 27 UPHCs across Uttarakhand should be monitored by the Expert Committee, and also seeks a direction to respondents to set up an Inquiry Committee to punish the guilty officials involved in the alleged misappropriation of public money for award of contract for operation of 27 UPHCs across Uttarakhand. The petitioner also seeks compensation from the respondents for their alleged irregularity.

The petition has been preferred by the R.T.I. Club, Uttarakhand, through its General Secretary. The petitioner had earlier preferred another PIL. When that petition was taken up for consideration by the High Court on 23.06.2023, the Court had required the petitioner to explain the petitioner’s locus standi, and in that context, explain as to why the unsuccessful bidders have not raised any grievance in relation to several contracts awarded by the respondents, allegedly irregularly.

The only explanation furnished by the petitioner in the present Petition is :-

"31- That so far as the explanation with regard to non agitation of grievances by unsuccessful bidders is concerned in this regard it is most respectfully submitted that as per knowledge of Petitioner there were in all seven bidders in the bidding process out of which two were allotted work and two are already working in the State of Uttarakhand with health department and two are outsiders inasmuch as they are based on the State of UP and Hyderabad. Since four bidders are already working with the health department as contractors they might have thought not to involve in any litigation with the employer in order to avoid future consequences. The "litigation history" of a bidder is also one of the factors to be considered while evaluating technical bids of every bidder. The outsiders would hardly engage in litigation that too with the mighty State before whom they have to go time and again to seek work. In addition this, there may be mutual understanding amount the bidders not to stand against each other so that they may enjoy level playing field in future competitive bidding process. This is also the subject matter of inquiry and investigation but non agitation by unsuccessful bidder cannot be a ground to deny access of justice to a citizen of nation who agitates public issues in a democratic manner.

32- That there is not only corruption and misappropriation made by the respondents, but there is also abuse of the power, rules & process by the Respondents. The law is well settled that every citizen has a legitimate expectation that his or her complaint will be considered and investigated upon, by the powers that be. In the present case, the Petitioner has highlighted various irregularities and anomalies touching to the financial loss caused to the public exchequer. Economic justice is one the features of Constitution of India therefore every vigilant citizen has a say in the matter of public employment and contract because ultimately it is the public money which is involved in the present contract matter. Had there been completely transparency and fairness on part of Respondents, Petitioner would have not raised any grievance in the matter of contractual obligation but since the anomalies and irregularities are quite apparent and the competent authority is not paying any heed to the genuine and legitimate demands of the Petitioner for the reasons best known to them, the Petitioner has left with no other options but to invoke the extraordinary writ jurisdiction of this Hon'ble Court to have the response of Respondents so that truth may come out."

The Division Bench of Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Rakesh Thapliyal was not satisfied with the reasons disclosed by the petitioner. The sole reason given by the petitioner is that bidders, who are already executing contracts, would not want to litigate against the State Government. This statement is completely belied by the fact that scores of petitions are preferred every day before us by contractors, who are regularly executing contracts for the State Government. There is nothing to show that the State discriminates against those bidders, or contractors, who approach the Court to ventilate their grievances in relation to any particular tender or contract. In relation to other bidders, who have not approached the Court, there is absolutely no explanation.

The petitioner claims to be an organisation, set up to unearth irregularities in government functioning, with the use of the Right to Information Act as the tool. In respect of the tender in question, admittedly, there were seven bidders. Only four of them succeeded in the tendering process, which is under challenge. The other three unsuccessful bidders never raised any grievance.

"If we were to permit an outsider, who has no concern whatsoever, to raise grievance in public interest, in relation to a tender invited by the State Government, or its instrumentality, when no such grievance is raised by any of the bidders – successful or otherwise, it would open floodgates and busybodies would approach this Court in the cases of all such tenders, with a view to raise nuisance, and put pressure on government departments, and successful bidders", the Bench observed.

Further the Court observed that the petitioner has no concern with the tender in question, as the petitioner was not one of the bidders. The Bench therefore, not satisfied that the petitioner has any locus standi to prefer the present Petition.

"We dismiss this Writ Petition, with costs quantified at Rs. 25,000/- to be deposited with the Uttarakhand State Legal Services Authority within four weeks. In case costs are not deposited, no petition preferred by the petitioner, or its General Secretary shall be entertained by this Court in future", the order read.