HEADLINES:
June 18 2019
Madras HC pulls up TN over egg procurement
22 February 2019

Quashes G.O. of August 2018 calling for zone-wise tenders of the commodity for the noon meal scheme

The Madras High Court on Thursday held as “capricious, perverse and arbitrary,” a decision taken by the State government in August last year to stop calling for a State-level single tender to procure eggs required for the noon meal scheme implemented in schools, and instead go for a zone-wise tender by dividing the State into six zones.

Public interest

Justice R. Mahadevan allowed a batch of writ petitions filed against the decision and said: “Every activity of the government has a public element in it and it must therefore be informed with reason and guided by public interest. The government cannot act arbitrarily and without reason. If it does, its action would be liable to be invalidated.” Tracing the history of noon meal schemes, the judge said, it was first introduced by the Madras Corporation in 1925 before being followed by the Pondicherry government during the French administration in 1930.

In 1962-63, the then State of Madras (now Tamil Nadu) pioneered the full-fledged noon meal scheme implemented in primary schools. The scheme was developed over the years and included supply of eggs as an essential component of the meal on all working days. In 2006, the State stopped the State-level single tender system and decided to procure eggs through district-level tenders but the new methodology ended up promoting cartels in supply of eggs.

Therefore, in 2012, the State government took a policy decision to revert to the single tender system. This change in policy was upheld by the High Court as well as the Supreme Court. However in August last year, the government suddenly decided to give up the single tender system and the decision was taken at an executive level at “a breakneck speed” of six days.

Right to trade

While taking such a decision solely on the basis of a representation made by the Tamil Nadu Poultry Farmers Association to promote local poultry farms, the government had also created an embargo thereby preventing the participation of suppliers from other States in the tender process. Such an embargo was clearly in violation of the constitutional right to trade, the judge held.

Though the State could impose reasonable restrictions on the right to trade, it could be done only by way of moving a Bill in the Legislative Assembly and not through executive instructions. “Such being the legal position, the embargo on the egg producers from outside Tamil Nadu is absolutely unfair, arbitrary and also discriminatory,” he added.

Terming such a change in policy through an executive act as a “colourable exercise of power,” Justice Mahadevan quashed a Government Order issued on August 20, 2018 for calling zone-wise tenders. He ordered that the existing contractor shall continue to supply eggs to noon meal centres until the government issues and finalises a new State-wide tender.

 

 

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