Courts must be slow in interfering with the interpretation given to the tender document by the owner/employer of the project

Supreme Court: In the controversy relating to bids invited by the Nagpur Metro Rail Corporation Limited for the design and construction of Metro Rail in the city of Nagpur, the Court held that M/s. Guangdong Yuantian Engineering Company (GYT) of China and M/s. TATA Projects Limited (TPL) as a Joint Venture (GYT-TPL JV) were not eligible to bid for the contract under consideration.

The issue arose in the light of one of the eligibility criteria specified by NMRCL where it was necessary that the bidder has satisfactorily completed a minimum number of similar contracts as a prime contractor, joint venture member during last 10 (ten) years i.e. up till 31.05.2016. According to GYT-TPL JV, it had executed the Pearl River Delta intercity high speed railway project in China, however, as per NMRCL, an inter-city high speed railway project did not meet the requirements of a metro civil construction work.

NMRCL has contended that there is a difference between an inter-city rail and a metro rail.  An inter-city rail is between two cities and the trains are usually high speed trains. A metro rail is intra-city, it has a dedicated right-of-way, normally it does not have high speed trains and the frequency of trains is much greater that of inter-city trains. A metro rail may extend, in some cases, to a suburb of a metropolitan city but it essentially remains an intra-city project. There is, therefore, a qualitative difference between an inter-city rail and a metro rail. By itself, this indicates a qualitative difference in a railway project that is inter-city and a railway project that is intra-city and the construction of a viaduct for a railway project that is inter-city and a railway project that is intra-city.

Considering the said difference highlighted by the he Court, hence, held that the fact that GYT-TPL JV made constructions in a metropolitan city or in a metropolitan area during the execution of the Pearl River Delta inter-city high speed railway project, does not make that project an intra-city metro rail project. It continues to be an inter-city railway project.

Regarding the interference with the decision of the owner or the employer in accepting or rejecting the bid of the tendered, the bench of Madan B. Lokur and R.K. Agrawal, JJ said that the owner or the employer of a project, having authored the tender documents, is the best person to understand and appreciate its requirements and interpret its documents. The constitutional Courts must defer to this understanding and appreciation of the tender documents, unless there is mala fide or perversity in the understanding or appreciation or in the application of the terms of the tender conditions. It is possible that the owner or employer of a project may give an interpretation to the tender documents that is not acceptable to the constitutional Courts but that by itself is not a reason for interfering with the interpretation given. [Afcons Infrastructure Ltd v. Nagpur Metro Rail Corporation Ltd, 2016 SCC OnLine SC 940, decided on 15.09.2016]

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