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Should Article 32 of the Constitution lend its assistance to petitioners so that the poor in Andhra Pradesh can be successfully deprived of their staple simple breakfast?: Supreme Court of India.

On 22nd August, in the year 1983, The supreme court of India disregarded and dismissed the petitioner’s case as they suppressed an important fact that rendered the petition filed useless. This judgement was seen in the case of Welcome Hotel and Others Vs. State Of Andhra Pradesh And Others (Writ Petitions 43,51-53, 415-18 and 751-52 of 1981) and this judgement was presided over by the bench comprising of The Honourable Mr. Justice D.A. Desai and The Honourable Mr. Justice O. Chinnappa Reddy.

FACTS OF THE CASE:

In this case, the Hoteliers of Andhra Pradesh raised a hue and cry when the Government of Andhra Pradesh enacted certain provisions in exercise of the powers conferred by Section 3 of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 read along with the notification of the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation dated June 9, 1978 and the Andhra Pradesh Catering Establishments (Fixation and Display of Prices of Foodstuffs) Order, 1978 dated September 8, 1978 in which it was made an obligation for catering establishments to display the prices of all food items served by the establishment and it also fixed the maximum price of seven items of food comprising the poor man’s menu in the State of Andhra Pradesh which included idli, vada, upma, sada dosa, puri, coffee, tea and a rice plate. Clause 3 of the Order prescribed maximum prices of the scheduled items of food and Clause 4 made it obligatory to display in English and the principal local language of the area the weight and price of every item of food item offered for sale in the establishment. There were further consequential provisions such as power to issue directions, power to call for information, power of entry, search and seizure, power to grant exemption and power to amend the Schedule.

The Schedule and the rates set out were modified by the amending Order dated December 11, 1980, and it catered to an upward revision of the prices. Further negotiations took place between the Minister of Civil Supplies and Labour and the hoteliers which led to a notification dated January 5, 1981, giving further upward revision in maximum price of scheduled items and the scheduled items were reduced from 7 to 6 removing rice plate. Ignoring the latest order which replaced the earlier orders the petitioners approached this Court and obtained an ex parte stay on the implementation of Orders dated September 5, 1978 and December 11, 1980. The Order dated January 5, 1981 was not stayed yet effectively and the petitioners were free to charge any price unhampered and uninhibited by any governmental action.

The petitioners submitted that the Court should give a direction to the State Government to re-examine the prices of inputs and overhead charges to arrive at such a maximum price of the scheduled commodities to ensure a reasonable return on the investment.

They then submitted that there are certain directions in the Orders which are impossible to comply with, therefore, the petitioners should be heard before they are compelled to implement the conditions. When introspected neither of the above submissions have any impact on the validity of the impugned Orders.

The petitioners then urged that the State Government is not competent to issue any price control measure in respect of cooked food because the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 which confers power to issue orders in respect of essential commodities does not confer any power to issue any order in respect of cooked food.

JUDGEMENT:

In the first submission when it was contended that the maximum price of scheduled items are economically unprofitable, the court said that as per the agreement with the Minister of Civil Supplies on December 31, 1980 the maximum prices would have been re- examined on the completion of three months, instead of respecting this agreement the petitioners rushed to the court to obtain an ex-parte stay order wholly suppressing the fact that the order impugned had already been replaced by the later order established on January 5, 1981. The court then declared petitioners who behave in such a manner are not entitled to any consideration at the hands of the court.

As per the second submission the court does not find anything very unusual or impractical in the conditions prescribed in the impugned Orders.

During the entire duration of the case proceedings, the hoteliers took advantage on the stay order and charged enormously from the poor, and the court felt like they were to blame as well because they approved the ex parte stay order. The court in its judgement said “Even an imaginary marginal dent in the profits of the hoteliers stirs it into action by an easy resort to a writ petition under Article 32 and an ex-parte stay which itself is success even if the petition ultimately fails because in the meantime the measure which may possibly affect their profits is kept under suspended animation and the profit being continuously derived from scattered consumers is not refundable and the unjust enrichment is enjoyed with impunity.”

The court shamed the behaviour of the Hoteliers and dismissed all their petitions as there was no merit in any of their submissions.

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JUDGEMENT REVIEWED BY TANAV ZACHARIAH.

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