As Promised in Press Conference, Pay Rent For Poor Tenants: HC Tells Delhi CM

'People have faith in the statement made by CM on a public platform, it should be enforced', Delhi HC told Kejriwal

3 min read
As Promised in Press Conference, Pay Rent For Poor Tenants: HC Tells Delhi CM

On 22 July, the Delhi High Court has directed Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to pay the rent of poor tenants, as promised by him during a press conference.

The Bench of Justice Prathiba M Singh noted that assurance/promise given by the chief minister is enforceable, both under the legal doctrines of promissory estoppel and legitimate expectations.

"This court is of the opinion that 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."
Delhi High Court

Frame Policy to Fulfill Promises

While holding that the promises made by the chief minister are enforceable under law, the court directed the Delhi government to frame a policy to implement the promise of paying rent of poor tenants.

"The GNCTD (Delhi Government) would, having regard to the statement made by the CM on 29 March, 2020, to landlords and tenants, take a decision as to the implementation of the same within a period of 6 weeks."
Delhi High Court

The court further stated that the said policy shall bear in mind the larger interest of the persons to whom the benefits were intended to be extended in CM's statement, as well as other overriding public interest concerns.

The judgment was passed on a plea by petitioners which included daily wage labourers, who claimed to be tenants unable to pay their rents after COVID-19 economic slowdown.

Calling the fulfillment of the CM's promise a 'solemn duty' of the government, the court said:

"Once the CM had made a solemn assurance, there was a duty cast on the GNCTD to take a stand as to whether to enforce the said promise or not, and if so on what grounds or on the basis of what reasons."
Delhi High Court

The Petition

The petitioners were relying upon the chief minister's press conference dated 29 March 2020, wherein he had requested all landlords to postpone the demand/collection of rent from those tenants who are poor and poverty stricken.

While requesting landlords to talk to their tenants and postpone the collection of rents, it is alleged that the CM, in the press conference, made a clear promise that if any tenant is unable to pay the rent, the government would pay his/her rent on their behalf.

Appearing for the petitioners, Advocate Gaurav Jain argued that when such a promise/assurance is given by the chief minister, who is the government's highest functionary, citizens are entitled to seek enforcement of such promises on the basis of the doctrine of legitimate expectation.

Jain further submitted that Right to Shelter is a fundamental right and the government, having made a clear representation to the citizens, would be bound by the said representation.

"The trust which was reposed on the constitutional functionary, ie, the CM, by the citizens is completely breached if the government is not held to the promise made on its behalf by its highest functionary."
Gaurav Jain, advocate for the petitioners

However, senior advocate Rahul Mehra, who was appearing for the Delhi government, countered this claim by contending that the doctrine of legitimate expectation can only be based on actual governmental policy or a governmental notification or an executive decision, and not on a mere political statement.

The court rejected Mehra's argument and noted that 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.

"The statements made by persons in power are trusted by the public who repose faith and believe in the same. Thus, 'puffing' which may be permissible in commercial advertising, ought not to be recognisable and permissible in governance."
Delhi High Court

The court further said that an assurance given by the CM, in a press conference, ie a public platform, even without resulting in a formal policy or an order on behalf of the government, would create a valuable and legal right by applying the doctrine of promissory estoppel.

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