Court refuses to set aside Maharashtra Govt.’s procurement policy of hostels for SC, ST & OBC students

Bombay High Court: In this case, the petitioner prayed for the issue of writ of mandamus against Social Justice and Tribal Development Department of the Government of Maharashtra to set aside a government order pertaining to the procurement policy of the hostels meant for students belonging to SCs, STs and OBCs and alleged that it was violative of Article 46 of the Constitution which is a Directive Principle providing for promotion and protection of educational and economic interests of SCs, STs and other weaker sections. The respondent department is in charge of development and functioning of these hostels.

A decision to supply essential material to these hostels was taken and certain guidelines as to how the tender process for the same would be conducted were indicated. A GR was made in 2015 giving preference to tribal supplier over the general if the price quoted by both was same. Subsequently in 2016, another GR was made stating that the lowest rate quoted by the backward class, institutions or individuals would be considered. Finally, a GR in December 2016 was made by way of new procurement policy.

As per this new policy, priority was being given to Micro Small and Medium Industries in large scale procurement in about 20% of the total procurements and out of the these 20%, around 4% was being reserved for MSMEs belonging to SCs or STs. The main averment of the petitioner is that the entire fund meant for the said community should have been used only for their welfare.

The counsel for the respondents relied upon a judgment of Madras High Court and of the Supreme Court in State of Punjab v. Ram Lubhaya Bagga, (1998) 4 SCC 117 which clarified the government’s stand on forming its policies and also that such policies are based on expert opinions. The Courts have refrained to interfere in these policies as far as Article 14 or Article 21 of the Constitution is not infringed. It has always been open to the government to invite tenders and make contracts as per its requirements and a manufacturer or a supplier cannot claim any right that the tender conditions should be that he is eligible to apply.

Owing to the reasons in the judgments cited by the respondent counsel, the  Court rejected the plea of the petitioners. It noted that the essential material was anyways being supplied to the hostels occupied by the said classes and the demand that even the tenders must be availed from the same categories of persons is an unacceptable stand as per the Court. It was held that there was no justification to the stand of petitioners. [Ajit Kumar Maruti Sonawane v. Principal Secretary, Social Justice and Special Assistance Department, PIL No. 16 of 2016, decided on 20.01.2017]

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