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In respect of public distribution commodities, ‘company’ does not come under the ambit of “a group of individuals as an entity”: Calcutta High Court

In pursuance of selecting distributors for the District Controller of Food & Supplies, a company cannot be said to be the same as a group of individuals forming a separate entity. It was observed by the single judge bench of Abhijit Gangopadhyay J. that the framers of the specified order did not include companies to be included in the ambit of distributors for food in the district in the case of M/s. Sonai Food Marketing Pvt. Ltd. v The State of West Bengal & Ors [WPA 4928 of 2021].

This writ application was directed against an order dated 28th January, 2021 issued by the District Controller, Food & Supplies, Purba Bardhaman, whereby the application of the petitioners dated 20.08.2018 was rejected. The application dated 20.08.2018 was for Distributorship license of public distribution commodities to the Fair Price Shops under the Public Distribution System. The three reasons disclosed for such rejection of the application of the petitioner were that no paper was submitted to prove the existence of any office of M/S Sonai Food Marketing Pvt. Ltd.. Further, the applicant was a company. However, applications were invited only from Self Help Groups/Registered Co-operative Societies/Semi-Government Bodies/Individuals/Group of Individuals as an entity. The proposed godown also failed to conform to the CWC norms owing to absence of the top ventilation and having little ancillary facility as required in eligibility criteria.

It was argued by the petitioner that as a Company is included within the meaning of the expression “group of individuals as an entity” the word company need not be specified separately in 2013 Control Order by 2018 amendment or otherwise.

State Trading Corporation case (AIR 1963 SC 1811), which has been relied upon by the petitioners the context was completely different while describing the characteristics of “company”. There, the context was enforcement of Article 19 of the Constitution of India by a Company as an entity consisting of individuals who have the right to enforce Article 19 of the Constitution. The context of holding a Company as an entity in that case and the context of the present situation as to being “a group of individuals as an entity” for making application for distributorship of public Distribution Commodities are wholly different. Being contextually different the observation of the above case made by the Supreme Court cannot be applied here

The court was of the opinion that they did not want to include the word “company” within the expression “group of individuals as an entity” which was held to be a conscious omission of the framers of the 2013 Control Order including its amendment in 2018. The framers had in front of them the definition of “distributor” under 2013 Control Order as has been defined in Clause 2 (j) of the said Control Order whose definition includes “company” and despite having it in front of them the framers did not include the word “company” within the expression “group of individuals as an entity”.

The court sounded judgment that “In the context of the 2013 Control Order in respect of supply and distribution of Public distribution Commodities „company‟ was not considered within the meaning of the said expression and the expression was always understood by the persons involved with the trade in its ordinary or natural meaning and not in its special (or technical) meaning.”

Thus it was evident from the above discussion that the context shows that the framers of the 2013 Control Order (including its amendment in 2018) intended to use the expression “group of individuals as an entity” in its literal sense and not in its legal, special or technical sense.

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