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Court cannot interfere with administrative decision merely on premise that any other decision would have been fairer, wiser, or more logical especially, when it relates to Excise policy: HC

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JAMMU: Justice Wasim Sadiq Nargal of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh High Court on Wednesday held that the Court cannot interfere with an administrative decision, merely on the premise that any other decision would have been fairer, wiser, or more logical especially, when it relates to the Excise policy. This significant judgment has been passed in bunch of petitions filed by petitioners aggrieved of the order whereby respondent No.2 has arbitrarily withdrawn the bid and Cancelled the auction result with regard to liquor vend situated at Excise Range.
Justice Wasim Sadiq Nargal after hearing both the sides observed that in transactions of commercial nature, like in the present case, the Government/State is at liberty to fix the terms of the bid document or notice inviting tender as they are motivated by commercial considerations, which are beyond the pale of judicial review. Therefore, the challenge made by the petitioners to the insertion of such a clause in the bid document is ill-founded as it is based on commercial considerations and is well within the power of the Government in such like matters. The Court can examine the decision making process and interfere if it is found to be vitiated by the vice of mala fides, unreasonableness and arbitrariness, which is not the case in the present matter.
Importantly, even if a case for interference is made out, the Supreme Court has sounded a caveat that courts should always keep the larger public interest in mind in order to decide whether an intervention is called for or not. Only when it comes to the conclusion that overwhelming public interest requires interference, the Court should intervene. Public interest, if at all, appears to be in fostering healthy competition amongst the bidders which was the rationale behind the decision of cancelling the auction and not in the cause projected by the petitioners. Thus, the challenge thrown by the petitioners to the order impugned is ill founded and devoid of any merit.
Justice Wasim Sadiq Nargal further observed that holistic view of the reply makes it clear that the Government has not sought to supplement existing reasons with completely fresh reasons. What the Government has mentioned in its reply is nothing but a necessary and logical corollary of poor response and less competition in the bidding process. It only logically follows that once there is poor response and less competition in the bidding process, it would have the propensity of causing loss to the State exchequer. It does not appear to this Court that by taking such a stand, the Government has sought to defend its stand on the basis of completely fresh reasons. In any event, even if it were to be assumed that this constitutes a fresh reason, it would be immaterial as this Court, while adjudicating on the validity of the Governmental action has only based its conclusion on the basis of reasons, explicitly mentioned in the order, namely the lack of competition and the poor response to the bids.
Resultantly, the aforesaid submission of the learned counsels for the petitioners does not come to the aid of the petitioners, Court said.
Justice Wasim Sadiq Nargal further observed that this Court hereby summarizes its conclusions and findings as follows In view of the exclusive privilege of the Government in sale/manufacture of liquor, the scope of judicial review in administrative decisions concerning same is extremely limited. II. No vested right is accrued to a bidder simply by virtue of the fact that he/she has been declared as the highest bidder provisionally and subject to fulfillment of certain conditions in a given auction.Bearing in mind the nature of the liquor trade, this Court, being a constitutional court, should be slow in interfering with the executive decisions taken by the State as they are essentially a matter of economic policy in which the Government must be afforded a greater latitude and fair play in the joints. The mere existence of a provision for Minimum Guaranteed Revenue or Minimum Reserve Bid Price in the Excise policy 202425, vide SO 85, does not disentitle the Government from cancelling the auction/re-auctioning on germane considerations having a logical nexus with the policy objectives. The decision to cancel the auction and the subsequent order for re-auctioning cannot be termed as arbitrary, discriminatory, or mala fide so as to warrant judicial interference. In any event, this Court cannot interfere with an administrative decision, merely on the premise that any other decision would have been fairer, wiser, or more logical especially, when it relates to the Excise policy. The cause projected by the petitioners does not subserve an overwhelming public interest, which must be borne in mind to decide whether judicial intervention is called for or not. The petitioners, being fully aware of the said auction conditions participated in the same without any demur and after having participated in the auction, cannot turn around and challenge or impugn an auction condition unless there is a foundation of manifest arbitrariness or mala fide, which is conspicuously absent in the instant case. IX. The reasoning provided by the Government for cancelling the auction cannot be termed as unreasonable or arbitrary and, after examining the original record, it appears to be an informed decision based upon germane considerations.
Court further observed that iun conclusion, this bunch of writ petitions, which are devoid of any merit, fail and are dismissed along with all connected applications. As a necessary corollary, the interim orders passed by this Court stand vacated in all these petitions. Accordingly, the Government is at liberty to proceed with the re-auction of various liquor vends, which are subject matter of the instant petitions pertaining to different ranges, in accordance with law.

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