The Delhi High Court on Wednesday quashed the Delhi government’s eligibility condition related to average annual turnover for NGOs seeking tender of the mid-day cooked meal scheme, terming it as “arbitrary” and “unreasonable”.
The court directed the Delhi government to appropriately rework the eligibility condition (of possessing an average annual turnover of Rs 3 crore for the preceding 3 years) and other minimum requirements to enable wider participation of NGOs.
“This court is of the opinion that the impugned eligibility condition is arbitrary and unreasonable, and is accordingly quashed,” a bench of justices S Ravindra Bhat and A K Chawla said. The court’s order came on a petition by four NGOs challenging the tender condition formulated by the Delhi government while inviting bids for the mid-day cooked meals scheme.
The NGOs had alleged that the eligibility condition of a minimum threshold of Rs 3 crore average financial turnover, during the previous three years, was arbitrary. The petitioners submitted that they were voluntary NGOs formed between 1995 and 2006 and were ISO certified agencies and have been providing services to the Delhi government in the past by supplying mid-day meals to children studying in its schools.
They had said the mandate of the guidelines was to promote charitable organisations only, which were willing to work on a no-profit basis. The scheme of supplying mid-day-meal was a benevolent scheme aimed at providing nutritional hot cooked meal to poor children studying in government and aided schools or institutions. They had said that by incorporating the pre-qualification criteria, the essence of the scheme to associate with voluntary organisations has been violated and commercialisation was being promoted and it was highly improbable to believe that an NGO having experience of five years could have a turnover of Rs 3 crore average annually.
The Delhi government’s counsel had submitted that the re-modeling of the clusters meant that under the request for proposal issued by the Directorate of Education, each successful bidder had to supply to a larger group or cluster- with a minimum student size of 35000.
Unless the contractor NGO had sufficient financial capability to wait for release of funds, which took about 4 months, it would fold up and in effect go bankrupt, it said, adding that this meant that a higher ability to withstand had to necessarily be indicated. The court, however, said that the emphasis by the Delhi government that the NGO concerned should be able to sustain four months itself without payment was “baseless and unreasonable” and “wholly irrational and arbitrary”.
“A deeper analysis would show that what the government of NCT of Delhi is saying that its existing administrative capability is so inefficient that the bills of every NGO would take at least four months for processing which is the reason why the eligibility condition needs to be factored in, is also an extraneous and an entirely unreasonable fact. In fact, it amounts to placing a premium on its own inefficiency in the guise of pragmatism,” the court said.
It also noted that change in the criteria was influenced by the size of the NGOs who were providing mid day meals to the three municipal corporations — East, South and North.
The court said that in its opinion, the blind and uncritical adoption of the municipal corporation-based model of eligibility criteria, which was based upon 18 NGOs catering to varying student populations of those schools within their jurisdiction, was “entirely arbitrary and unreasonable”.