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Gauhati High Court closes PIL espousing public interest involved in construction of Ropeway

The Gauhati High Court closed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed espousing the public interest involved in 2 (two) projects namely, construction of Ropeway from Durtlang to Chaltlang, Aizawl and the Skywalk at Sakawrhmuituaitlang, Aizawl funded under the Centrally Sponsored Scheme by the Ministry of Tourism to help the State in developing Tourism facilities.

According to the petitioner, for the said purpose, the Government of India in the Ministry of Tourism sanctioned a sum of Rs. 99 Crores during the period 2014 – 2015 and the Government of Mizoram thereafter, allotted the work to the respondents through a limited tender and the contract agreement was signed on 30.08.2017. As per the agreement, 16 (sixteen) months time was given for completion of the work. The time period given for completion of the work has lapsed but the work has not been completed despite a huge sum of money having been released and mobilized. The petitioner, claiming to have concern over the matter, has filed the instant PIL.

Pleadings have been exchanged by the parties and it has come to light that a dispute between the contractor and the employer has arisen and the same has been referred for arbitration.

Mohd. Faris, counsel for the respondent Nos. 3 & 4 (private respondents) submits that in terms of the Order dated 03.04.2023, the respondent No. 3 has filed an additional affidavit on 19.04.2023. Referring to the said affidavit, the counsel submits that the arbitration proceedings were initiated by issuance of notice to the parties on 23.12.2021. Since then, there has been a number of sittings and the next sitting is scheduled for 5th & 6th May, 2023. Under the circumstance, the learned counsel submits that the instant PIL which is on the same subject should not be entertained and should be dismissed.

The counsel further submits that the subject matter of the present PIL pertains to disputes relating to contractual or statutory liabilities and therefore, the PIL is not maintainable, in view of there being a specific bar as contained in Clause 8 (iv) of the Notification dated 27.01.2011 issued by the Registrar General of this High Court. He further submits that even as per the guidelines formulated under the direction of the Supreme Court of India and published by the High Court by Notification dated 01.12.1988, the subject matter of the instant case cannot be entertained as a PIL. He thus submits that the instant PIL should be dismissed.

Rosalynn L. Hmar, counsel for the petitioner on the other hand refers to the notice sent by the petitioner to the respondent No. 3 on 25.11.2021, asking the latter to take immediate action to return the advance amount paid for the project on account of non-completion/non-execution of the work concerned. The respondent No. 3 in reply vide Communication dated 14.12.2021, instead of disclosing the fact that an arbitration proceeding was being pursued, simply cautioned the petitioner not to initiate false vexatious legal action against the respondent No. 3. She therefore submits that the respondent Nos. 3 & 4 cannot take the plea that because of the initiation of the arbitration proceedings lately, the PIL should not be entertained. She submits that for the action/in-action on the part of the respondent Nos. 3 & 4, they are in fact also criminally liable to be proceeded against. Therefore, she submits that the Court may consider the claim and the averments made in the PIL and pass appropriate orders.

The Aizawl Bench of Justice Nelson Sailo and Justice Marli Vankung held that it is true that initially, after the filing of the PIL, the fact of the arbitration proceedings having been initiated was not brought to the notice of the Court. Later on, without specific details, the Court was informed that since Arbitration Case No. 2/2022 was being taken up by the 3 appointed arbitrators and therefore, the instant PIL should not be entertained. The Court therefore directed the respondent No. 3 to file an additional affidavit giving the details of the arbitration proceedings vide Order dated 03.04.2023. Accordingly, the respondent No. 3 has filed an additional affidavit on 19.04.2023. Upon perusal of the additional affidavit, the Bench found that the arbitration proceedings was initiated on 23.12.2021 in terms of the relevant provision of the Deed of Agreement signed between the parties on 30.08.2017. Therefore, having regard to the same, the High Court was not inclined to proceed with the instant PIL. The High Court also refrained from making any further comments in view of the on-going arbitration proceedings.

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