Allotment of public property should be only by auction, not favouritism or political interference: Karnataka High Court

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The Karnataka High Court recently pulled up the State authorities for showing favouritism and allowing political clout to dictate allotment of public properties [Chandra Suvarna vs State of Karnataka].

Justice M Nagaprasanna said that allotment of public properties should be done only by public auction and leasing out public property without an auction amounts to arbitrary exercise of power.

“Public property, is trite to be leased out only by way of public auction/tender failing which it would become an arbitrary exercise of power. Public property cannot be bartered away at the whim and fancy of interested persons without even the public coming to know availability of such property,” the Court said.

The petitioner and the respondent had applied for grant of a land on lease for establishing a cold storage for fish. Both their applications were rejected on the ground that the land could be allotted only via auction.

Both the parties then approached Karnataka State MLAs with their grievance. The respondent approached Lalaji Mendon whereas the petitioner approached K Raghupathi Bhat, both MLAs of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Following this, the Joint Director of Fisheries issued an order declaring the the land was allotted to the respondent.

The Court observed that the order came about purely on political interference and the case was a classic illustration of political interference putting public administration in peril.

“It need no emphasis that the State is governed by ‘rule of law’ and not by ‘rule of men’. A few men at the helm of affairs or the powers that be, cannot be seen to act in a manner that would thwart the rule of law and generate a concept “you show me the person; I will tell you the law”. This Court would not permit the State Government to act in a partisan manner in favour of any applicant,” the Court said.

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It, therefore, directed the State to stop issuing allotment order of public properties as a result of political interference and to allot them only though public auction.

The Court also quashed the order allotting the land to the petitioner.

“This case would form the last straw of admonishing the State for bartering away public property at its whim and fancy. Any such iteration would, without doubt, be viewed seriously, as such actions cannot bear any sanction under any law. Rule of law is insurmountable,” it added.

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