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No Fault in Empowerment of Rural Women: Calcutta HC Dismisses Petition Raised against Bengal Govt Memo after 13-year Delay – News18

Calcutta High Court. (File photo: PTI)

The court was dealing with the petition which challenged a memorandum issued by the West Bengal government’s health department that barred federations or clusters of Self-Help Groups (SHGs) from supplying food in hospitals in the state’s rural sector with up to 50 beds

The Calcutta High Court recently dismissed a petition challenging a memorandum issued by the West Bengal government’s health department after 13 years of inordinate delay.

The memorandum barred federations or clusters of Self-Help Groups (SHGs) from supplying food in hospitals in the state’s rural sector with up to 50 beds, ruling that there was no scope for interference in the current writ petition.

The single-judge bench of Justice Sabyasachi Bhattacharya noted, “Empowerment of local women in rural areas by providing employment opportunities for them cannot be faulted from any perspective whatsoever. Certain supervision of the State cannot be said to be a vitiating factor in that regard, since otherwise, the entire allotment would be unregulated, which might also afford scope for corruption, nepotism, and opportunism.”

The state was justified in arguing that the present challenge had been preferred after an inordinate delay of 13 years, the court added.

The petitioner alleged that the state government had curtailed drastically the wider participation of members of the general community. While the purported objective behind the decision was the empowerment of women, participation from other women apart from the members of the SHGs had been entirely precluded, the plea alleged.

The petitioner argued that the preclusion of the open tender was the bane of public projects and employment schemes.

There are 269 rural hospitals in different districts of West Bengal and the selection of the supplier of cooked diet will now be restricted to the local self-help groups, which will choke competition even among similarly situated other groups or persons, said the plea.

The petitioner also highlighted that the process by which the appointments would now be made to rural hospitals would be through selection by the chief medical officer of health (CMOH) on the specific recommendation of the project director, DRDC (District Rural Development Cell), both of whom are government functionaries and under the direct control of the state government. Hence, by way of the introduction of the selection process, the open tender had been entirely obliterated and the wishful fancy of the state government would be subserved in all such appointments, said the plea.

The counsel appearing for the state submitted that the declared purpose of the impugned clause is the empowerment of women through the promotion of the SHG movement, which cannot be faulted in any manner and was well within the constitutional scheme of India.

Also, apart from empowering women, it will serve the purpose of supporting local SHGs, the counsel contended.

Further, the counsel argued that the impugned memo is a policy decision of the state which cannot be otherwise faulted.

Hence, it was contended that the court ought not under normal circumstances interfere with such policy decisions of the state.

Lastly, the counsel submitted that the inordinate delay of 13 years remains unexplained in the writ petition and, as such, ought to be deprecated by dismissing the writ petition.

The court after considering the submissions stated, “Clause 3 of the Memorandum provides that the said provision is for the empowerment of women through promotion of the SHG movement which, per se, cannot be faulted, since the same is to achieve a benevolent public purpose which is in consonance with the Constitutional scheme. It cannot be denied that the CMOH is a sufficiently qualified medical officer to decide on the eligibility of a particular SHG for appointment as supplier of cooked diet to hospitals and a sufficient safeguard to the functions of the CMOH has also been implanted in the policy.”

The court observed that at the end of the impugned clause, it is provided that no tender process is required for the engagement of such federation or cluster and the project director shall recommend only one federation or cluster for specific rural hospital and/or health centres in complete satisfaction of the above conditions. The mere existence of such a clause, in the absence of any other vitiating circumstance, cannot render the entire scheme bad in law.

Accordingly, the court dismissed the writ petition.

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