Allahabad High Court dismisses PIL seeking probe into UP Jal Jeevan Mission scheme

The Allahabad High Court has dismissed a PIL seeking a probe into the alleged financial embezzlement in the implementation of Uttar Pradesh Government’s Jal Jeevan Mission scheme.

The Division Bench of Justice Devendra Kumar Upadhyaya and Justice Ajai Kumar Srivastava-I passed this order while hearing a PIL filed by Aditya Mohan Arora.

It has been stated in the writ petition that the State Water and Sanitation Mission is the executing agency for implementation of Jal Jeevan Mission (Har Ghar Nal Se Jal), which is a scheme evolved for providing drinking water at village level.

Further submission in the writ petition is that the State Water and Sanitation Mission, while selecting an agency for the work relating to third party inspection (TPI), has chosen an agency which has quoted higher rates than UP Jal Nigam for the said purpose.

It has also been stated that UP Jal Nigam is a Statutory Corporation and there was no reason why the work relating to third party inspection could not have been awarded to a State Agency, namely UP Jal Nigam, instead of awarding the same to a private agency, on rates quoted higher than the rates of Jal Nigam.

The petitioner submitted that the work relating to third party inspection is, thus, being carried out by a private agency on escalated rates as the rates quoted by the private agencies in the tender process were much higher than the prevailing rates of UP Jal Nigam.

The petitioner further submitted that the Third Party Inspection rate in the State of UP has been fixed to be 1.33 percent, whereas the same prevalent in the state of Tamil Nadu is 0.15 percent, in the state of Kerala is 0.4 percent and thus, the rate on which the work relating to Third Party Inspection is being taken in the state of U.P. is higher, which amounts to misuse of government grants/funds. Certain other allegations have also been made in the writ petition, such as adopting pick-and-choose method for awarding the work and further that award of the said work dehors the operational guidelines as formulated by the Government of India.

The petitioner has also submitted that because of mala fide intention of the officials and for personal gains the work relating to supply of pipes has been awarded to a company which has been debarred/blacklisted by many States of the country for its substandard quality and deficient services.

Another submission made in the writ petition is that the entire tender process by the respondents was carried out without consulting U.P. Jal Nigam and since U.P. Jal Nigam, in such matters is the main operating State Agency, the work ought to have been awarded to it instead of empanelling any other construction agency.

Counsel for the petitioner has also drawn attention of the Court to the letter dated September 04, 2021 which contains reply from the Public Information Officer of respondents and according to the counsel for the petitioner, the reply contained in the said letter to the information sought/queries made are all evasive, which according to counsel for the petitioner, clearly reveals that the entire process adopted by respondents has been opaque and, thus, lacks the requisite transparency and fairness.

The petition has been opposed by the State Counsel as also counsel representing the State Water and Sanitation Mission stating that the petition is motivated, misconceived and does not contain any material so as to even point out any irregularity in the award of tender for the work in question.

Counsel for the respondents submitted that the petition has not been filed with bona fide intention, rather this is politically motivated and, as such it need not be entertained by the Court.

It has also been stated that all the misgivings in the mind of the petitioner get removed by the reply given to the petitioner by the Executive Director of the respondents his letter dated September 10, 2021.

Thus, the submission is that this petition is liable to be dismissed.

The Court said that, before proceeding to examine any other averment made in the writ petition, we need to assure ourselves that the petition has been filed with bona fide intention and is not a motivated petition or a camouflage to serve the interest of any person other than the public at large.

“There cannot be any dispute that the public authorities (which will include State Water and Sanitation Mission as well) have to act in the most transparent, fair and lawful manner and such agencies cannot be permitted to be lax in observing the law,” noted the Court.

It is also not in dispute that in case any irregularity or illegality is found being committed by such agency, specially the financial irregularities which ultimately touches upon the interest of every individual tax payer in the society, such issues need to be probed to be followed by appropriate permissible legal action, it added.

However, for satisfying this Court to order for any such probe, any public interest litigation should contain adequate and credible material and also the person filing such public interest litigation should have bona fide intention, rather than being impelled by some mala fides.

The Court noted that the petitioner in the writ petition has stated that he is a resident of Lucknow and is presently engaged in business. On being queried as to what business the petitioner is doing, the Counsel for the petitioner stated that he is in real estate and construction business.

A further query was put to the Counsel for the petitioner as to how and in what capacity did he seek information under the Right To Information Act vide his application dated August 31, 2021 in respect of some complaints made by a political figure mentioned therein his tweets.

No satisfactory reply could come forth from the petitioner, except that he was well within his right to seek any information under the Right to Information Act.

“Reliance placed that the petitioner on the tweets of a political party, which have been annexed as Annexure No 5 to the writ petition and the queries made under the Right to Information Act relating to the complaints made by the said political figure and also the fact that the petitioner himself is in real estate/construction business do not convince us to arrive at a conclusion that the petition has been filed for bona fide reasons,” the Court observed.

“The respondents, in their wisdom, took a policy decision with the concurrence of the cabinet of the State Government to get the works executed in Engineering Procurement and Construction (EPC) Mode by open competitive bidding. Such a policy decision cannot be faulted for the reason that it exclusively lies in the realm of policy.

“We also notice that the selection, as stated by the Executive Director of respondents in his letter dated September 10, 2021 of the agency for executing the work, has been done in terms of the guidelines/rules contained in the Procurement manual.

The said letter also categorically stated that even the rates which have been approved as quoted by the agencies are lower than the rate of UP Jal Nigam and that the agency for Third Party Inspection work has been chosen by adhering to open competitive bidding process from amongst the eligible tenderers.

The reply given to the petitioner by the Executive Director of respondents in his letter dated September 10, 2021 does not leave any scope for interference by us in the Public Interest Litigation. What we have noticed is that the insistence of the petitioner in the case is that the work of respondents ought to have been allocated to the U.P. Jal Nigam which is a government agency.

The Court said that, if there is a policy shift and appropriate decision in this regard has been taken by the cabinet of the State Government which is not in contravention of any law, statutory or otherwise, any interference in said policy decision would not be permissible by the Court.

The Court further said that, it is clear that only a person acting bona fide and having sufficient interest in the proceeding of PIL will alone have a locus standi and can approach the court to wipe out the tears of the poor and needy, suffering from violation of their fundamental rights, but not a person for personal gain or private profit or political motive or any oblique consideration.

Similarly, a vexatious petition under the colour of PIL brought before the court for vindicating any personal grievance, deserves rejection at the threshold.’

“It is depressing to note that on account of such trumpery proceedings initiated before the courts, innumerable days are wasted, which time otherwise could have been spent for the disposal of cases of the genuine litigants,” the Court said while dismissing the writ petition.
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