The Supreme Court has refused to interfere with a Delhi High Court order holding as not maintainable a PIL seeking cancellation of a lease awarding 50 acres of land at the Kandla Port in Gujarat to a private firm, due to lack of territorial jurisdiction.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said no prejudice was caused to the petitioner NGO — Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) — by asking it to move the Gujarat High Court.
“We are not inclined to interfere with the order impugned in the special leave petition as, in our considered view, no prejudice has been caused by requiring the petitioner to move the appropriate jurisdiction i.e the High Court of Gujarat, raising its grievance under the same subject matter before the said High Court. The special leave petition is, accordingly, dismissed,” the bench, also comprising Justice S K Kaul, said.
The high court, on October 1 last year, had said no part of the cause of action had arisen within its territorial jurisdiction and granted liberty to the petitioner NGO to approach the appropriate forum in accordance with law.
The bench had passed the order on the maintainability of a plea by the NGO, alleging that the Kandla Port Trust (KPT), now known as the Deendayal Port Trust, had overvalued the structures set up at the site by a firm — Friends Salt Works and Allied Industries (FSWAI) — when it had leased the land in the past, to ensure that only the said firm got the contract.
The bench had noted that the tender was issued from Gandhidham and the land was situated at Kutch in Gujarat.
It had said the plea of the NGO’s counsel, Prashant Bhushan, referring to various sections of the Major Port Trusts Act, 1963 to contend that the Centre had a role to play in the working of the KPT, was without any merit.
The petition had claimed that FSWAI did not have to pay an amount of Rs 207 crore if it was successful in the bid and added that under the earlier lease agreement, the KPT did not have any contractual obligation to compensate the firm for its assets.
The NGO had sought that if the lease awarded to the firm in April, 2015 was not cancelled, then the amount of Rs 207 crore be recovered from it.
“The introduction of the said clause in the tender (to compensate FSWAI) is illegal and arbitrary since it was the responsibility of FSWAI to remove the structures before the expiry of the (earlier) lease. The additional burden of Rs 207 crore on the other bidders put them at a significant disadvantage and ensured that the said tender would be awarded to FSWAI,” the NGO had alleged in its plea.
CPIL had earlier raised the issue in a fresh application moved in a pending petition, alleging that a huge scam had taken place during the 1960s and 1970s, when plots near the Kandla Port were leased out on the basis of nominations to private parties without a bidding process.
The court, however, had asked the NGO to file a separate petition to challenge the new lease and subsequently, it had filed the instant PIL.
The earlier PIL had also alleged irregularities in the allotment of 16,000 acres of government land, which caused a huge loss to the state.