Decided on January 13,2014

Ketan G Jani Appellant


BHASKAR BHATTACHARYA, J. - (1.) By this Public Interest Litigation, the writ -petitioner has challenged the tender issued by the respondent No.4 -Trust for the purpose of allotment of a "pay -and -use" shoe -centre agency on the ground that the same is violative of the fundamental rights of the public at large including that of the devotees of the Ambaji Mata Temple.
(2.) THE case made out by the writ -petitioner may be summed up thus: 2.1 The respondent No.4 is a Public Trust registered under the provisions of the Bombay Public Trusts Act, 1950 and is entrusted with the management of the Ambaji Mata Temple situated at Ambaji, Banaskantha District. 2.2 The Ambaji Mata Temple attracts a large number of devotees from all over of the country and also from some other parts of the world. To the best of the knowledge of the writ -petitioner, approximately 1.5 Crore devotees visit the Ambaji Mata Temple every year. 2.3 The respondent -Trust is entrusted with the responsibility of administration of the Ambaji Mata Temple in the interest of its beneficiaries and is supposed to provide facilities to the visiting devotees who are also the beneficiaries of the respondent -Trust. 2.4 Pursuant to the above objective of providing facilities to the visiting devotees, the respondent -Trust used to invite tender for the allotment of shoe -centre -facility to be provided free of cost to the visiting devotees. The agency to whom such tender was granted used to provide free of cost service for keeping the shoes of the visiting devotees in safe custody. The agency, in return of its services, was paid consideration by the respondent -Trust. 2.5 The gross annual income of the respondent -Trust for the year 2011 -12 was Rs.40.38 Crore according to the Auditor's report whereas the net annual income of the respondent -Trust for the year 2011 -12 was Rs.18.08 Crore. 2.6 However, for the year 2013 -14 and 2014 -15, the respondent - Trust published the impugned tender notice whereby the respondent - Trust sought to allot the shoe -centre agency on pay -and -use basis on condition that the agency in whose favour the tender would be issued would be permitted to collect Re.1/ - from each visiting devotee for providing the said facility. Therefore, the shoe -centre -facility which had been providing free of cost services to the devotees since many decades is now sought to be provided only on pay -and -use basis by the respondent -Trust. 2.7 The main burnt of this change would have to be borne by the poorer section of the local residents of Ambaji, who are at present visiting the Ambaji Mata Temple three times a day to offer their prayers. The burden of paying Rs.90/ - a month per person would prove to be too onerous for the local devotees of the Ambaji Mata Temple. The devotees also comprise of beggars and economically weaker sections of Ambaji, who would not be in a position to afford the fees of the pay -and -use shoe centre. Since religious rituals and practice do not permit one to enter into the temple premises wearing shoes, they would indirectly be deprived of entering into the Ambaji Mata Temple. 2.8 It further appears that the local communities of Ambaji used to benefit from the said free shoe -centre services being provided by the respondent -Trust since they used to get employment through the same. As a result of the change in the terms and conditions of the impugned tender, the local communities may also lose their employment and income. The impugned tender provides that the agency in whose favour the tender would be granted is required to submit a security deposit of Rs.1,25,000/ - along with an Earnest Money Deposit of Rs.35,000/ - whereas in the tender for the earlier year being 2012 -13, the security deposit was only Rs.15,000/ - which could be afforded by the local communities. The local communities may not be able to afford the security deposit of Rs.1,25,000/ - in terms of the impugned tender issued by the Trust. Thus, the impugned tender violates the fundamental rights of the local communities guaranteed to them under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India. Mr. Shah, the learned advocate appearing on behalf of the petitioner, strenuously contended before us that having regard to the huge income earned by the respondent -Trust, there was no justification in imposing charge of Re.1/ - per devotee for the purpose of looking after their shoes. Mr. Shah submits that in the past, at no point of time, the devotees were required to pay any amount for the safe -keeping of their shoes and the annual income of the respondent - Trust being more than Rs.40 Crore, there was no justification of imposing charge for protection of shoes of the devotees. Mr. Shah, therefore, prays for passing appropriate direction restraining the respondent -Trust from charging any amount for the protection of shoes of the devotees.
(3.) AFTER hearing Mr. Shah and after going through the materials on record, we find that the condition imposed in the impugned tender cannot be said to be unreasonable so as to violate the fundamental rights of any of the citizens. Simply because in the past no fee was charged, such fact cannot enable the petitioner to contend that in future also, no reasonable amount can be taken for the purpose of guard of the shoes of the devotees. It appears from the materials placed before us that the respondent -Trust spends huge amount for the purpose of education and on consideration of its financial position if it decides to impose a reasonable amount of Re.1/ - per devotee for the safeguard of their shoes, the same cannot be said to be arbitrary so as to attract the provisions of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.;

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