On Thursday (July 22), the Delhi High Court came down hard on the Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal for not fulfilling his promise made during a press conference on March 29 last year. The verdict came in response to petitions filed in the court by migrant workers and a landlord seeking payment of house rent from the Delhi government.
The pleas were heard by a single-judge bench of Justice Prathiba M Singh. In a significant judgment, the Delhi High Court ruled, “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.”
It must be mentioned that the Delhi government, in a press conference held on March 29, 2020, had promised to pay the rent of poor tenants on their behalf. He had also requested all landlords to postpone the collection of rent from poor tenants. The petitioners argued that it was a ‘clear promise’ made by Arvind Kejriwal to the poor tenants of Delhi. As such, the Court held that any assurance by the Chief Minister of a State is enforceable as per the doctrine of promissory estoppel and legitimate expectations.
“The assurance given by the CM has to be considered by the Government and a decision has to be taken whether to implement or not implement the same,” it emphasised. Justice Prathiba M Singh directed the Delhi government to frame a policy as per the assurance given by Kejriwal and cite reasons if they decide to not implement the policy. The Court also made it clear that a decision on the same must be reached within a period of 6 weeks.
Delhi High Court rejects a ‘mere political statement’ argument
Advocate Gaurav Jain, representing the petitioners, emphasised that the Right to Shelter falls under the category of Fundamental rights and the Delhi government is bound by its said assurance. He argued that the trust reposed on the CM by the citizens will be completely breached if the said promise is not kept. Advocate Rahul Mehra, representing the Government of Delhi, claimed that the doctrine of legitimate expectation can only be based on an executive decision/governmental notification or policy and not a “political statement”.
The Delhi High Court, however, rejected his arguments and pointed out that the heads of State are expected to make reasonable and responsible assurances to people in times of crisis. It ruled, “On behalf of the citizens, there would obviously be a reasonable expectation, that an assurance or a promise made by a senior Constitutional functionary, not less than the CM himself, would be given effect to. It cannot be reasonably said that no tenant or landlord would have believed the CM.”
Assurance by Head of State is enforceable, cannot be overlooked in times of distress
The Court observed that it is not the absence of a positive decision but the lack of decision making, which is contrary to the law of the land. Justice Prathiba M Singh said, “Once the CM had made a solemn assurance, there was a duty cast on the GNCTD to take a stand as to whether to enforce the said promise or not and if so on what grounds or on the basis of what reasons.” The Delhi High Court further added that announcements made in a press conference, in the backdrop of the pandemic, lockdown, and migrant crisis, cannot be overlooked.
“The statements made by persons in power are trusted by the public who repose faith and believe in the same. Thus, “puffing” which may be permissible in commercial advertising, ought not to be recognisable and permissible in governance,” it said. The Court concluded that such public assurances, even in the absence of a formal policy, create a ‘valuable and legal right’ for the petitioners based on the promissory estoppel doctrine.
The Court, therefore, passed the following directions:
i. The Delhi government would, 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.
ii. 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.
iii. Upon the said decision being taken, the Delhi government would frame a clear policy in this regard.
iv. Upon the said decision being taken, 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.