(1.) These writ petitions challenge the vires of Clause.51A of the Kerala Rationing Order, 1966, and the validity of the action taken thereunder, viz., the notices issued to the petitioners to show cause against terminating their appointments to deal in rice and wheat. It is common ground that the petitioners are persons who are authorised Ration Distributors under Clause.51 of the Rationing Order or who may be deemed to have been appointed as such under the provisions of the said clause. The Rationing Order was promulgated by the Government of Kerala under the powers conferred by sub-s.(1) and (2) of S.3 read with S.5 of the Essential Commodities Act 1955. Clause.54(1) of the Rationing Order empowers the District Collector by order to appoint in respect of any area, any person as authorised wholesale distributor in respect of any rationed article. On such appointment, by Clause.4, the wholesale distributor is entitled to supply rationed articles in accordance with the provisions of the Order in the areas specified in the order of appointment. The distributor is to furnish to the Government sufficient security for the due performance of his work and to execute an agreement with the District Collector for the due performance of the conditions of appointment. Sub clauses (8) and (9) of Clause.51 of the Order provided for the grounds for suspension or cancellation of the appointments. These sub clauses may conveniently be extracted:.
"51 (8) On receipt of a report from any of the officers referred to in sub clause (7) or on his own inspection of the stocks and accounts in a shop, if the District Collector or any officer of the Civil Supplies Department not below the rank of a Taluk Supply Officer finds any shortage or excess in the quantity of rationed articles in the stock or any irregularities in the accounts, or detects non compliance with any of the directions issued by competent authorities, he may after giving the authorised wholesale distributor an opportunity of stating his case and for reasons to be recorded in writing, amend, vary, suspend or cancel his appointment and / or order forfeiture of the whole or any part of the amount deposited by the authorised wholesale distributor as security under sub clause (5). Notwithstanding anything contained in this sub clause he may order the realisation of an amount equivalent in value of the quantity of rationed articles found short at the time of inspection. If considered necessary, he may suspend the appointment of the authorised wholesale distributor, pending enquiry.
(9) Notwithstanding the provisions contained in sub clause (8), the District Collector or any Officer of the Civil Supplies Department not below the rank of a District Supply Officer may, after giving the authorised wholesale distributor an opportunity of stating his case and for reasons to be recorded in writing, amend, vary, suspend or cancel his appointment whenever in the opinion of the District Collector or other officer, it is in the interest of the general public necessary or expedient so to do and in every such case the authorised wholesale distributor shall surrender on demand to the District Collector or other Officer, the order of appointment for endorsement or cancellation, as the case may be."
Sub clause (10) provided for a right of appeal to the Government, to the Commissioner of Civil Supplies, or to such authority as the Government may specify, against the orders passed under Clause.51. Sub clause (11) conferred on the Government or the Commissioner, a power of revision either suo moto or on application to call for and examine the records of any order passed by a subordinate authority under the provisions of this clause, and pass appropriate orders.
(2.) The impugned Clause.51A was introduced by a Government notification dated 19-9-1967 published in the Kerala Gazette Extraordinary of the same date and reads as follows:
"51A(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in Clause.51 or any contract to the contrary, if at any time, the Government are of opinion that in the interest of the general public, it is necessary or expedient so to do, the Government may, by general or special order, cancel the appointment of any or all or any class of authorised wholesale distributors after giving an opportunity to such distributor or distributors of being heard; and such order of the Government shall be final.
(2) When the appointment of any authorised wholesale distributor or authorised wholesale distributors is cancelled under sub clause (1) the stocks of rationed articles available with him or them at the time of such cancellation shall be disposed of in accordance with the directions of the Government."
A copy of the notification dated 19th September 1967 is Ext P3 in O. P. No. 3415 of 1967. The same was issued in exercise of the powers conferred by sub clauses (1) and (2) of S.3 and S.5 of the Essential Commodities Act 1955, read with the order of the Government of India, a copy of which has been filed as Ext. P1, in O. P. Nos. 3498 to 3500 of 1967. I do not extract the said order of the Government of India, as it was not shown that the conditions placed on the exercise of the State Government's powers by the same have not been complied with.
(3.) By way of a sample, Ext. P4 in O. P. No. 3415 of 1967 may be treated as representative of the notices issued to the various petitioners to show cause against the cancellation of their appointment. It reads:
"GOVERNMENT OF KERALA FOOD DEPARTMENT
Trivandrum No.15662/B5/67/Fd. D Trivandrum
Dated: 27th September, 1967
Under Clause.51A of the Kerala Rationing Order, 1966
WHEREAS after considering the working of the scheme for distribution of rationed articles in the State and all aspects of the matter Government are of opinion that the wholesale depots should be organised by a phased programme through cooperative organisations and the Food Corporation of India and that in the interest of the general public it is necessary and expedient that your appointment as authorised wholesale distributor under the Kerala Rationing Order, 1966 for rice and wheat under order of the District Collector, Calicut should be cancelled.
Now, therefore notice under Clause.51A of the Kerala Rationing Order, 1966 is given to you to make representations, if any, in the matter to the secretary to Government of Kerala, Food Department, Kerala Secretariat, Trivandrum, on or before 15-10-1967 and also, if you so desire, appear before him, in the Kerala Secretariat at 11 A. M. on 18-10-1967 for being heard in the matter.
If no representation is received from you before the expiry of the period specified above or if you do not appear before the Secretary to Government, Food Department at the appointed time, it will be deemed that you do not wish to be heard and further action taken.
(By Order of the Government)
Secretary to Government (Food)";