Keep promise to pay rent for pandemic-struck poor: Delhi HC to Kejriwal

‘Assurance given by the CM clearly amounts to an enforceable promise; implementation ought to be considered by the government’

In a landmark verdict, the Delhi High Court on Thursday directed Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to live up to his promise, made in a press conference last year, that his government would pay rent for those who are unable to do so due to poverty in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The promise/ assurance/ representation given by the CM clearly amounts to an enforceable promise, the implementation of which ought to be considered by the government,” Justice Prathiba M. Singh ruled.

Justice Singh remarked that the Chief Minister could not first make a “clear and unequivocal oral assurance” and then fall silent when it came to its implementation.

The judge directed the Delhi government to take a decision within six weeks on whether to implement the promise made by Mr. Kejriwal on March 29, 2020, bearing in mind the larger interests of the persons to whom the benefits were intended to be extended.

If a decision was made to implement the promise, the Delhi government should frame a clear policy, the High Court said.

The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 resulted in the announcement of a nationwide lockdown with effect from March 25, 2020. A large number of people lost their employment due to the shutting down of establishments.

Delhi witnessed a mass exodus of migrant workers to their home towns due to the lack of work. In this backdrop, Chief Minister Kejriwal, during a press conference, made the promise that if any tenant was unable to pay rent due to poverty, his government would pay the rent on their behalf. The CM also assured that reimbursement would be made to the landlords, if the tenants could not pay the rent.

The High Court’s decision came on a clutch of petitions by several daily wage labourers, who said they are tenants unable to pay their monthly rent, and a landlord who has not been able to receive the monthly rent from his tenant. They had sought enforcement of the promise made by the CM.

“Law has evolved the doctrines of legitimate expectation and promissory estoppel to ensure that promises made by the government, its officials and other authorities are not broken and are, in fact, judicially enforceable, subject to certain conditions,” the High Court highlighted.

Justice Singh further made the distinction that the CM’s assurance “is not a political promise”, that it was not made as a part of an election rally.

“It is a statement made by the CM of the GNCTD (Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi). There is a reasonable expectation on behalf of the citizens that the CM knows the background in which such a promise is being made, the number of people who would be affected by the same as also the financial implications of such a promise/assurance, in the context in which it was made,” the High Court said.


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