In a notable judgment, the Delhi High Court has held that a promise or assurance given by the Chief Minister in a press conference amounts to an enforceable promise and that a CM is expected to exercise his authority to give effect to such a promise.
A single judge bench comprising of Justice Pratibha M Singh observed thus:
"The promise/assurance/representation given by the CM clearly amounts to an enforceable promise, the implementation of which ought to be considered by the Government. Good governance requires that promises made to citizens, by those who govern, are not broken, without valid and justifiable reasons."
Furthermore, it said:
"The CM is expected to have had the said knowledge and is expected to exercise his authority to give effect to his promise/assurance. To that extent, it would not be out of the place to state that a reasonable citizen would believe that the CM has spoken on behalf of his Government, while making the said promise."
The Court was dealing with a petition filed by daily wage labourers/ workers, who were unable to pay their monthly rent, to seek enforcement of a promise made by the Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal dated 29th March last year.
It was thus the case of the petitioner that the CM gave a press conference, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, in which he requested all landlords to postpone the demand/collection of rent from those tenants who were poor and poverty stricken. Arvind Kejriwal had further said that the Government would pay rent on behalf of tenants if they are unable to do so due to poverty.
According to the Petitioners, a solemn assurance was given that the Government would take care of the tenants.
It was thus stated that not only has the Delhi Government not honoured the promise made by the CM in the press conference, but in fact none of the communications sent by the Petitioners and similarly situated individuals to the Government were responded to.
Relying on plethora of judgments, the Court reiterated that the two doctrines of promissory estoppel and legitimate expectation have their genesis in the concept of trust between citizen and the Government and that good governance requires the said trust to be maintained between those who govern and those who are governed.
Applying the foreign and Indian judgments on the subject to the facts of the present case, the Court observed thus:
"The address by the CM in the press conference has three dimensions. The first dimension is an appeal to the landlords. Second is a promise to landlords that it would pay on behalf of the tenants, if they are unable to due to lack of means and poverty, and thirdly, it has a warning to landlords to not coerce the tenants."
In view of this, the following important observations were delivered by the Court:
- In a democratic setup, persons who hold an elected office, and especially heads of government, heads of State and those holding responsible positions are expected to make responsible assurances/promises to their citizens, especially in times of crisis and distress.
-On behalf of the citizens, there would obviously be a reasonable expectation, that an assurance or promise made by a senior Constitutional functionary, not less than the CM himself, would be give effect to. It cannot be reasonably said that no tenant or landlord would have believed the CM.
- In the present case, in the backdrop of the commitment made, it is not the positive decision making which is arbitrary, but the lack of decision making or indecision, which this Court holds to be contrary to law.
- A statement given in a consciously held press conference, in the background of the lockdown announced due to the pandemic and the mass exodus of migrant labourers, cannot be simply overlooked. Proper governance requires the Government to take a decision on the assurance given by the CM, and inaction on the same cannot be the answer.
"It cannot be held that there was no expectation or anticipation by the citizens that the CM's promise would be given effect to. The doctrine of promissory estoppel also being an equitable doctrine, equity requires this Court to hold the GNCTD responsible for the said indecision or lack of action, on the promise/assurance given by the CM." The Court held.
The Court observed that the CM and the Council of Ministers are to aid and advise the Governor in the exercise of his functions, and an assurance given by the CM, in a press conference, i.e., a public platform, even without resulting in a formal policy or an order on behalf of the GNCTD, would create a valuable and legal right by applying the doctrine of promissory estoppel.
Directions Issued by the Court
- The GNCTD would, having regard to the statement made by the CM on 29th March, 2020 to landlords and tenants, take a decision as to the implementation of the same within a period of 6 weeks.
- The said decision would be taken, bearing in mind the larger interest of the persons to whom the benefits were intended to be extended in the said statement, as also any overriding public interest concerns.
- Upon the said decision being taken, the GNCTD would frame a clear policy in this regard.
- Upon the said decision being taken, if a Scheme or Policy is announced, the Petitioners' case be considered under the said Scheme/Policy as per the procedure prescribed therein, if any. Remedies against any decision taken are left open.
Title: NAJMA v. GNCTD