Fence sitters cannot be allowed to barge into courts and cry for their rights at their convenience: Calcutta High Court

Where a person comes to the Court at a delayed stage, the Court can rightly refuse the relief sought for by the aggrieved party.” The High Court at Calcutta before the Hon’ble Justice Amrita Sinha in the matter of Sri Durga Enterprise & Anr. Vs. The State of West Bengal & Ors. [W.P.A. No. 8470 of 2021], dismissed the writ petition stating that it did not find any reason to interfere in such a matter where there is an absence of infringement of either any fundamental or statutory right of the petitioners.

This case relies on the fact that in response to a vacancy notice published in the year 2005 for the appointment of distributor, petitioner No. 1 being a partnership firm applied for the vacancy at Bhupatinagar within one kilometer from Block Office of Bhagwanpur– II. On successfully being eligible for such distributorship, the petitioner was provided a license to act as the distributor for the location of Bhupatinagar within one kilometer from the Block Office of Bhagwanpur– II. It is important to note that petitioners have been running the business since 2009 and their license has always been renewed by the respondents from time to time. The petitioners were provided only 20 dealers having 1,54,197 ration cards tagged with them, whereas, the private respondent No. 4, Alaka Mandal had 37 dealers with 2,81,460 ration cards tagged along with an additional seven dealers with 46,901 ration cards. Similarly, respondent No. 5, M/S Enterprise, had 41 tagged dealers with 2,96,504 ration cards with two additional dealers with 14,862 ration cards. The petitioner alleged discrimination in such aspect of distribution, and seek equal treatment in this regard.

According to the petitioner, a distributorship becomes viable upon tagging at least 2,50,000 ration cards, relying upon the memo dated 13th April 1999, issued by the Department of Food and Supplies, Government of West Bengal, mentioning that such distributorship shall be followed in respect of appointment, tagging and re-tagging of distributors, wholesalers and retailers in MR area, and not more than 2.5 lakh ration cards shall be tagged with an MR distributor. The respondents, in this regard, have not disclosed any reason as to the inequality treatment received by the petitioners, and thus, the petitioners prayed for issuance of a Writ of Mandamus, commanding the respondents to tag all the dealers of Bhagwanpur- II block with the petitioners’ distributorship. Petitioner No. 1 also complained that it was never appointed as the distributor for the entire Bhagwanpur- II block.

According to the respondents and the State, the license was granted to the petitioner in respect of Bhupatinagar under Purba Medinipur District, and such want of enough ration cards was never conveyed to the respondent authorities. Adding to that, the petitioners lost their force when the West Bengal Public Distribution System (Maintenance and Control) Order came into force, and no concept of block-wise distributorship has been mentioned in the above-stated Order of 2013.

Moreover, after the National Food Security Act, 2013, came into effect, it is the sole discretion of the State Government to identify the eligible beneficiaries under the Act, and such declaration of vacancies for dealers and distributors, appointment, de-tagging, and re-tagging of distributors, wholesalers and dealers vide memo dated 13th April 1999, have been canceled with immediate effect vide memorandum dated 12th March 2015, which was issued by the Principal Secretary & Food Commissioner, Food and Supplies Department. In the latter memo, it has been prescribed that such declaration of new vacancies and appointment of dealers and distributors, tagging of eligible beneficiaries was to be done following the National Food Security Act, 2013, wherein the Fair Price Shop dealers, wholesalers and distributors are to be guided by the number of eligible beneficiaries selected in the local area, geographical location convenient to the beneficiaries, remoteness, and accessibility to the Fair Price Shops and the distance traveled by such beneficiaries in keeping with compactness and homogeneity of the area.

Hon’ble Justice Amrita Sinha, with regard to the number of ration cards tagged to each dealer, opined that an upper limit of 2.5 lakh cards was mentioned in the memo of 13th April 1999, but a lower limit has never been mentioned, which meant that any number of cards below 2.5 lakh was permissible to be tagged to a dealer/distributor. The Court also raised the fact that the concerned petitioner never complained to the authorities challenging the tagging of cards of the private respondents. It has also been stated by Her Lordship that for the better functioning of the Public Distribution System, the District Administration was deemed to be the appropriate authority for taking necessary steps for the declaration of vacancy and filling up the same since several factors are important for consideration during the tagging/de-tagging of ration cards, and the administration took into consideration the relevant factors and found it suitable to tag additional ration cards temporarily for suitable convenience of the beneficiaries and that, it had all the authority to do so.

Furthermore, Her Lordship said, “The equal treatment right which the petitioners are seeking is grossly misconceived in the facts and circumstances of the instant case.” Supporting Her Lordship’s statement, the Hon’ble Court provided suitable reasons – that, the petitioners approached the Court directly without highlighting their grievances before the concerned authorities at a delayed instance; and, that, they failed to produce any reasonable evidence to prove that there has been any arbitrariness or mala fide on the behalf of the respondent authorities for tagging more number of cards with the private respondents than what had been tagged with the petitioners. Subsequently, it was held that the license of petitioner No. 1 was issued only in respect of the Bhupatinagar area and not the entire area of the Bhagwanpur- II Block, and this was done by the authorities as they deemed fit after assessing the relevant factors.

Thus, the Hon’ble Court, thereby, stated that it found no reason to interfere in such a matter where there is an absence of a fundamental or statutory right of the petitioners. The writ petition, hence, was dismissed for its failure.

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