The Punjab and Haryana High Court has questioned the validity of Clause 11 of the Custom Milling Policy in Punjab and has pointed out to decade-old pending disputes between the state and rice millers under the provision.
The HC said the government needs to ask itself why would an officer of procuring agencies want to continue allocating paddy to a mill year after year even though they were locked in disputes.
The division bench of Justices Mahesh Grover and Raj Shekhar Attri, while pronouncing its order on a plea challenging the particular clause, has said it requires deliberation to decide whether the clause is oppressive and if it needs to be “diluted in reading”.
According to Clause 11, if a defaulter mill clears its bill with the penal interest as decided by the government from time to time, then they may be considered for provisional allotment of paddy without prejudice from the outcome of FIRs, court case or any arbitration case pending against them. The defaults include embezzlement or non-delivery of rice.
“The underlying intent of the clause is undeniably to prevent an abuse by a miller and safeguard the interest of the State which procures paddy and gives it to the miller for delivery of rice. But there seems to be some substance in the argument of the learned counsel for the petitioners qua the perpetual denial of consideration in clause 11 which is somewhat fortified by State’s own documents showing proceedings which are yet to attain finality even qua the defaults which took place in the year 1999-2000,” the division bench order dated November 1.
The division bench also expressed shock the government has shown aggravated figures of the outstanding amounts regarding the interest and has said the principle amounts are significantly less in comparison to the interest. It has said the pending cases lend credence to the petitioner’s allegation the industry would be throttled on account of exorbitant demands.
“We cannot be oblivious to a dishonest claim, fictional dispute or a highly aggravated claim raised by the state’s or procurement agencies’ functionaries, given the fluidity of the procurement and allocation process sans any sound scientific techniques to assess the co-relation between paddy supplied for milling and the expected grain in return. In such a situation, it is the miller who is likely to be held hostage to the litigation process,” the bench has said.