Calcutta High Court: In a writ petition seeking the quashment of the private respondent’s appointment as an Fair Price Shop (FPS) dealer and a direction to the state respondents to issue a fresh notification for the vacancy, and other related reliefs, a single-judge bench comprising of Bibek Chaudhuri,* J., upheld the appointment, on finding that the private respondent had met all eligibility criteria for the FPS dealership, and the petitioner’s objections were unfounded.
The court also held that the character of the land on which the godown and shop room were constructed did not disqualify an applicant from applying for an FPS dealership, as it was a matter for the Land and Land Reforms Department to consider.
In the instant matter, the Food and Supplies Department of the Government of West Bengal published a vacancy notification for a dealership of a fair price shop (FPS) in the village of Kaliganj (Khidirpore/Narayanpur) within Kaliganj Gram Panchayat, Krishnanagar Subdivision. The notification was first published on the official website on 11-03-2020, and later in the Bengali newspaper ‘Anandabazar Patrika’ on 29-01-2021, outlined eligibility criteria for applicants.
Two crucial requirements were that the applicants must have a godown measuring approximately 400 square feet and an office-cum-shop room measuring around 200 square feet in the locality specified. Additionally, the applicants were required to have a bank account with a deposit of Rs. 5,00,000/- on the date of application and for the preceding year.
The petitioner met the physical requirements for the godown and office-cum-shop room but lacked the necessary bank balance for the preceding year. The petitioner sought clarification on the financial requirement and was informed by the Subdivisional Controller that it was mandatory. Since the financial requirement was a mandatory criterion, which he did not fulfill, prevented him from applying for the FPS dealership.
The petitioner expected that all applications, including his, would be canceled due to none of the applicants meeting the financial solvency criteria, and a new vacancy with adjusted financial requirements would be published. However, the petitioner learned that a private respondent had been granted the license for the FPS without meeting the financial criteria.
The petitioner filed a writ petition seeking the quashing of the private respondent’s appointment, a direction for the state respondents to issue a fresh vacancy notification, and other related reliefs.
Whether the relaxation of the financial requirement for the private respondent was arbitrary and unconstitutional?
Whether the petitioner has the locus standi to challenge the appointment of the private respondent?
The petitioner contended that the state respondents’ actions were arbitrary and unjust, violating the right to equality under Article 14 of the Constitution of India, and infringing upon Articles 19(1)(g) and 21 of the Constitution of India
The private respondent contended that they met the eligibility criteria, including the financial requirement, and that the petitioner did not have the locus standi to challenge their appointment.
The Sub-Divisional Controller, Food and Supplies Department, Nadia, representing the state government, contended that the financial requirement specified in the eligibility criteria necessitated a bank balance of at least Rs. 5 lakhs as working capital both on the date of application and for the preceding year. It was contended that the private respondent met these criteria, and there was no specification in the vacancy notification regarding the character of the land on which the godown and shop room were to be constructed.
While addressing petitioner’s objection regarding the land on which their godown and shop room were situated, the Court stated that it was the responsibility of the Land and Land Reforms Department to consider whether the construction on agricultural land violated the West Bengal Land Reforms Act.
While citing N.G. Projects Ltd. v. Vinod Kumar Jain, (2022) 6 SCC 127, the Court referenced the principle that courts should refrain from interfering in government contracts and tenders. The Court emphasized that courts should only intervene if there is total arbitrariness or malafide conduct in the granting of tenders. The Court also cited Subir Ghosh v. State of W.B., 2020 SCC OnLine Cal 2213, which held that a person who did not participate in the bidding process could not challenge tender conditions.
The Court referred to National Highways Authority of India v. Gwalior Jhansi Expressway Ltd., (2018) 8 SCC 243 and ITC Ltd. v. Blue Coast Hotels Ltd., (2018) 15 SCC 99 to support that a person who did not participate in a selection process or bidding process generally cannot challenge the outcome.
The Court dismissed the petitioner’s claims, finding that the private respondent had met all eligibility criteria, and the petitioner’s assumption of undue relaxation of financial solvency was unfounded.
The Court, hence, dismissed the writ petition and upheld the appointment, stating that the private respondent met the eligibility criteria and that the petitioner lacked legal standing to challenge the appointment.
[Tarani Rajwar v. State of W.B., 2023 SCC OnLine Cal 3422, order dated 06-10-2023]
*Judgment by Justice Bibek Chaudhuri
Advocates who appeared in this case :
Mr. Debabrata Saha Roy, Mr. Pingal Bhattacharyya, Mr. Subhankar Das, Mr. Neil Basu, Mr. Sankha Biswas, Counsel for the Petitioner
Mr. Sirsanya Bandopadhayay, Mr. Amrita Lal Chatterjee, Counsel for the State
Mr. Srijib Chakraborty, Mr. Ramij Munsi, Ms. Champa Pal, Counsel for the Respondent 6