Case BriefsCOVID 19High Courts

Bombay High Court: A Division Bench of Dipankar Datta, CJ and K.K. Tated, J., held that,

“price fixation is necessarily to be left to the judgment of the executive and unless it is patent that there is hostile discrimination against a class of persons, the processual basis of price fixation is to be accepted in the generality of cases to be valid.”

Petitioner challenged the notification issued by Principal Secretary to the Government of Maharashtra, Department of Public Health.

Petitioner stated that directions be issued to State of Maharashtra to provide

  • COVID treatment to all citizens of Maharashtra, totally free of cost in all hospitals including private hospitals
  • to notify uniform rates or charges for the treatment of patients of COVID in all the hospitals in Maharashtra
  • to provide 100% free treatment to COVID patients
  • to charge all the patients other than those suffering from COVID according to the Mahatma Jyotibha Phule Health Insurance Scheme, etc.

Petitioner adds to his submissions that it is the State’s duty and obligation to provide health and medicare services for all the citizens free of cost and that the State of Maharashtra has utterly failed to live up to the expectations of the people.

The above-mentioned notification does not tale into consideration the plight of a vast cross-section of people who are not in a position to afford private hospital treatment, for which State should take a step ahead and make arrangements of free treatment.

Persons not covered under any health insurance product were being charged exorbitantly causing hardship to the public in general.

80% of isolation beds available with any healthcare provider under the above-mentioned notification should be regulated by State Government/District Collectors/Municipal Commissioners and so also the 80% of non isolation beds. Healthcare providers, however, have been allowed to charge their rack rates to the remaining 20% beds.

Several measures, have been directed by the State to be adopted by private hospitals while treating patients infected by COVID as well as ailing from other diseases. Price caps have also been introduced.

In view of the above-stated, Bench stated that there is no compulsion on any citizen to take treatment from private facilities.

Adding to its conclusion, Court also stated that, it is entirely left to the option of the patient as to which of the facilities he would prefer, i.e., facilities in private or public hospitals.

There is also no discrimination between the rich and the poor. Even a rich and a poor person alike can take admission in the 80% reserved category of beds, and pay at the rate prescribed.

Bench also added that the price fixation brought about by the impugned is neither arbitrary or unreasonable.

To urge the Bench to direct the State to provide for treatment of a patient free of cost, in these circumstances, appears to be preposterous.

Petitioner has utterly failed to demonstrate any infringement of any fundamental right or abrogation of any statutory provision by the State so as to adversely affect any class of people, thereby warranting judicial intervention.

Court thus dismissed the PIL stating the same to be frivolous. Cost of Rs 5 lakhs imposed. [Sagar Shivajirao Jondhale v. State of Maharashtra, 2020 SCC OnLine Bom 717 , decided on 16-06-2020]

Case BriefsSupreme Court (Constitution Benches)

Supreme Court: The 5-judge bench of Arun Mishra, Indira Banerjee and Vineet Saran, M.R. Shah and Aniruddha Bose, JJ., held that once the Central Government having exercised the power under Entries 33 and 34 List III of seventh Schedule and fixed the “minimum price”, the State Government cannot fix the “minimum price” of sugarcane. By virtue of Entries 33 and 34 List III of seventh Schedule, both the Central Government as well as the State Government have the power to fix the price of sugarcane. The Court, however, clarified that

“it is always open for the State Government to fix the “advised price” which is always higher than the “minimum price”, in view of the relevant provisions of the Sugarcane (Control) Order, 1966, which has been issued in exercise of powers under Section 16 of the U.P. Sugarcane (Regulation of Supply and Purchase) Act, 1953.”

The Court, further, held:

  • The Sugarcane (Control) Order, 1966 which has been issued under Section 16 of the U.P. Sugarcane (Regulation of Supply and Purchase) Act, 1953 confers power upon the State Government to fix the remunerative/advised price at which sugarcane can be bought or sold which shall always be higher than the minimum price fixed by the Central Government;
  • Section 16 of the U.P. Sugarcane (Regulation of Supply and Purchase) Act, 1953 is not repugnant to Section 3(2)(c) of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 and Clause 3 of the Sugarcane (Control) Order, 1966 as, as observed hereinabove, the price which is fixed by the Central Government is the “minimum price” and the price which is fixed by the State Government is the “advised price” which is always higher than the “minimum price” fixed by the Central Government and therefore, there is no conflict. It is only in a case where the “advised price” fixed by the State Government is lower than the “minimum price” fixed by the Central Government, the provisions of the Central enactments will prevail and the “minimum price” fixed by the Central Government would prevail. So long as the “advised price” fixed by the State Government is higher than the “minimum price” fixed by the Central Government, the same cannot be said to be void under Article 254 of the Constitution of India.

Background of the Reference

The Court was hearing a reference seeking resolution of conflict between the rulings in Tika Ramji v. State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 1956 SC 676 and State of U.P. Cooperative Cane Unions Federations v. West U.P. Sugar Mills Association, (2004) 5 SCC 430.

In Tika Ramji Case, the 5-judge bench held that,

  • Section 16 of the U.P. Sugarcane (Regulation of Supply and Purchase) Act, 1953 does not include the power to fix a price;
  • The price of cane fixed by the U.P. Government only mean the price fixed by the appropriate Government which would be the Central Government, under Clause 3 of the Sugarcane (Control) Order, 1955.
  • even the provisions in behalf of the agreement contained in Clauses 3 and 4 of the U.P. Sugarcane (Regulation of Supply and Purchase) Order, 1954 provided that the price was to be the minimum price to be notified by the Government subject to such deduction, if any, as may be notified by the Government from time to time, meaning thereby the Central Government, the State Government not having made any provision in that behalf at any time whatsoever;
  • there is no power to fix a price for sugarcane under the U.P. Sugarcane Act or Rules and the Orders made thereunder.

In UP Cooperative Cane unions Federations Case, the 5-judge bench held that

“the inconsistency or repugnancy will rise if the State Government fixes a price which is lower than that fixed by the Central Government. But, if the price fixed by the State Government is higher than that fixed by the Central Government, there will be no occasion for any inconsistency or repugnancy as it is possible for both the orders to operate simultaneously and to comply with both of them.”

It explained that a higher price fixed by the State Government would automatically comply with the provisions of clause 3(2) of 1966 Order. Therefore, any price fixed by the State Government which is higher than that fixed by the Central Government cannot lead to any kind of repugnancy.

This Court on conflict between Tika Ramji Case and UP Cooperative Cane unions Federations Case:

As per the aforementioned ruling of the Court in the present case, it held that the view taken by the Constitution Bench of this Court in the case of U.P. Cooperative Cane Unions Federations case is the correct law.

In the case of Tika Ramji, the Court held that in the field of sugar and sugarcane, both, the Parliament and the State legislature would have the concurrent Jurisdiction as the same will fall under Entry 33 in the Concurrent List of seventh Schedule. Considering the fact that the State Government did not exercise the power of fixing the price, though the powers were available and the Central Government fixed the price/minimum price which came to be adopted by the State Government, this Court in Tika Ramjis case held that in such a situation there is no conflict and the question of repugnancy does not arise.

It, therefore held,

“there is no apparent conflict between the decisions in Tika Ramji’s case and U.P. Coop. Cane Unions Federations, which require to be referred to a larger Bench of seven Judges.”

[West UP Sugar Mills Association v. State of Uttar Pradesh, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 380, Decided on 22.04.2020]