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No intention, but you make a statement: HC pulls up Delhi govt over Kejriwal promise to tenants

The division bench headed by Chief Justice DN Patel also criticised the government for making the statement without having any such intention. “You have no intention to make payment but you made the statement. Should we record this?” asked the court.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. (File)

While questioning the Delhi government for making a statement without intending to fulfill it, the Delhi High on Monday stayed its earlier order directing the State to frame a policy towards implementation of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s statement of March 2020, in which he had said that the authorities would pay the rent if any tenant was unable to do so.

“If you can say, say boldly that I had no intention but I had spoken the statement,” a division bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh told the government during the hearing of an appeal filed by the government against a verdict passed by Justice Prathiba M Singh in July.

Also Read |‘Struggling to pay rent, will keep CM in my prayers if he does good for us’

Justice Singh’s order came on a petition filed by five daily-wage workers and a landlord over a statement the CM made last year, in the midst of the pandemic and a nationwide lockdown.

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According to the petition, in a press conference on March 29 last year, CM Kejriwal requested all landlords to postpone the demand for collection of rent from those tenants “who are poor and poverty stricken” and also promised that if any tenant is unable to pay the rent due to poverty, the government would pay on their behalf.

Justice Singh had ruled that a promise or assurance given by a Chief Minister “clearly amounts to an enforceable promise”, the implementation of which ought to be considered by the State. However, the State in its appeal said that the statement has been erroneously picked out of context and misinterpreted to “constitute a sweeping and unconditional promise/representation”.

On Monday, Senior Advocate Manish Vashisht, representing the Delhi government, argued that there was “no promise at all” and that the government had only asked landlords not to coerce tenants on payment of rents and rather postpone it for a few months. “This one line that if an extremely poor person doesn’t find means to pay, then the government will look into it for a small part… so much of conditions in one statement… and that has been said to be an unconditional statement, a sort of a promise,” Vashisht added.

The court asked Vashisht to read the CM’s statement made in March 2020 and, after hearing it, observed, “There must be several persons like this who might not have paid the rent. Aap bolte ho ki sarkar iska bukhtan karegi (You say the government will pay). Have you any intention to make (payment of) even 5 per cent amount… Are you ready to pay even 1 per cent?”

The audio recording of Kejriwal’s statement was also played by the government counsel during the proceedings. When the government submitted that there was no such aggrieved person before it, the court observed, “You draft the policy. A thousand people will come to you”.

The court observed, “So you have no intention to make the payment but you made a statement? Should we record this in our order that though you don’t want to make the payment, the statement was made by you?”

However, the division bench later said that the operation of the single-bench judgment will remain stayed till the next date of hearing, November 29.

Advocate Gaurav Jain, who represented the petitioners, opposed the stay, submitting that the State should be asked to make a policy in accordance with the statement given by Kejriwal.

In her verdict in July, Justice Singh had said good governance requires that promises made to citizens by those who govern are not broken without valid and justifiable reasons.

The government in its appeal has said that Kejriwal’s statement that the government “will consider payment of rent” on behalf of persons who could not pay due to poverty was “clearly to encourage them to comply with the restriction imposed on travel to prevent the spread of the pandemic”. It further has said that travel restrictions were eased later “and, therefore, the occasion to consider the course suggested in the address on 29.03.2020 did not arise.”

Contending that the doctrine of legitimate expectation cannot be invoked in the case, the government also said “the claim of the petitioners for enforcement of a promise which was never made by the Hon’ble CM cannot be considered to be based in facts or law and is merely a result of their anticipation arising out of possibly irresponsible legal advice.”.

Observing that a statement made in a press conference, in the background of the lockdown and a “mass exodus” of migrant labourers, cannot be simply overlooked, the single-bench in July said that the assurance was not a political promise and was also not made as a part of any election rally.

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