The Delhi High Court Monday stayed an order directing the AAP government to decide and formulate a policy on the implementation of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s announcement that if a poor tenant was unable to pay rent during the COVID-19 pandemic, the state would pay it.
A bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh issued notice on the Delhi government’s appeal against the order passed by a single judge, who also held that a Chief Minister’s promise to citizens is enforceable in nature.
The bench said that irreparable loss would be caused to the appellant if an order of stay is not passed.
“There is a prima case in favour of the appellant. Balance of convenience is in favour of the appellant and irreparable loss shall be caused. We stay the operation, implementation, and execution of the order of the single judge till the next date of hearing,” said the bench which posted the matter for further hearing on November 29.
Senior counsel Manish Vashisht, appearing for the Delhi government, claimed that in the backdrop of the outbreak of the pandemic, a “fervent appeal” was made by the Chief Minister to the public at large not to coerce the tenants into paying rent, however, the same was “found” to be “a sort of a promise” by the single judge.
“Accordingly to me, there was no promise at all. We only said please follow the statement of the Prime Minister. We said to the landlords (that) do not coerce tenants to pay rent… and even if, to some extent, the poor do not find the means to pay, the government will look into it,” he stated.
Taking note of his submission, the bench said “so you have no intention to make the payment? Even five per cent payment.”
The senior counsel responded saying “only if the situation so demanded”.
Lawyer Gaurav Jain, representing the petitioners — daily wagers and workers who sought to enforce the promise before the single judge, opposed the grant of any order of stay.
He said his clients have no means to pay the rent amount.
In its appeal, the Delhi government has submitted that expecting a government to “implement a truncated sentence from the press conference held by the Hon’ble CM, devoid of its context and in the face of developments which demonstrate that the eventuality for which the assurance was made never actually transpired, is grossly inequitable”.
“The facts and circumstances surrounding the truncated statement of the Hon”ble CM on 29.03.2020 demonstrate that the manner in which the petitioners have allegedly acted is not reasonable in as much as no indiscriminate and unconditional assurance for payment of rent by the GNCTD during the lockdown was made by him,” the plea said.
On July 22, Justice Prathiba M Singh had ruled that a Chief Minister’s promise to citizens was enforceable and directed the AAP government to decide within six weeks Arvind Kejriwal”s announcement that the state would pay rent on behalf of a poor tenant who is unable to do so on account of COVID19.
The judge had opined that against the backdrop of a commitment made by Chief Minster, a lack of decision-making or indecision was contrary to law.
“A statement given in a consciously held press conference, in the background of the lockdown announced due to the pandemic and the mass exodus of migrant labourers, cannot be simply overlooked. Proper governance requires the government to decide on the assurance given by the CM, and inaction on the same cannot be the answer,” the single judge had said in an 89-page verdict.
The judge had said that in the present case, the assurance was not a “political promise”, as was sought to be canvassed as it was not made as a part of an election rally but it was the statement made by the Delhi Chief Minister.
“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,” the court had said, adding that a citizen would believe that the CM has spoken on behalf of his government while making the promise.
On September 10, a single judge had granted two more weeks to the Delhi government to decide with regards to the implementation of the assurance.