UJJAL BHUYAN, J. -
(1.) Heard Mr. H Nath, learned counsel for the petitioner and Mr. MK Choudhury, learned Senior Counsel assisted by Mr. M Sarma, learned counsel for respondent No.1. Also heard Mr. NN Jha, learned counsel for respondent No.2.
By filing this petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, petitioner seeks quashing of selection of respondent No.2 for LPG dealership under Rajib Gandhi Gramin LPG Vitrak at Morangaon under Borgang Gaon Panchayat.
Case of the petitioner is that an advertisement was issued by respondent No.1 i.e., Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. (IOCL), which was published in the daily newspaper Niyamiya Barta' on 29.12.2013 for allotment of LPG dealership under Rajib Gandhi Gramin LPG Vitrak Scheme (Scheme). Present writ petition pertains to such dealership at Morangaon under Borgang Gaon Panchayat in the district of Sonitpur for the open category.
It appears that petitioner and respondent No.2 had responded to the said advertisement for LPG dealership at Morangaon. Both of them were called for selection on 11.11.2014, which was by way of draw of lottery. In the draw, respondent No.2 was selected and accordingly result was declared to the effect that respondent No.2 was the selected candidate for LPG dealership under the Scheme in respect of Morangaon.
Following the same, petitioner made inquiries whereafter, he came to know that though respondent No.2 had some land under Borgang Revenue Circle, he was infact a permanent resident of Ward No.3, Santipur, Biswanath Chariali.
As per Clause-3 of the advertisement dated 29.12.2013, a candidate applying for LPG dealership under the Scheme for a particular location, besides being a citizen of India, has to be a resident of the concerned Gaon Panchayat in respect of which the advertisement was issued or must be a resident of the related revenue circle on the date of making the application responding to the advertisement. In support of such residentship, the candidate was required to attach a permanent resident certificate along with the application form. It was further stated that at the time of selection, a candidate having permanent residentship of the concerned Gaon Panchayat would be given priority; in the absence of such a candidate, a permanent resident of the relevant revenue circle would be considered.
Contending that respondent No.2 was neither a resident of the Gaon Panchayat nor of the revenue circle covering the location Morangaon, petitioner lodged complaint before the authorities of respondent No.1. Since there was no response, present writ petition came to be filed.
This Court by order dated 11.02.2015 had issued notice and passed an interim order to the effect that respondent No.1 should not allot the LPG dealership under the Scheme at Morangaon within Borgang Gaon Panchayat. However, it was made clear that notwithstanding pendency of the writ petition, it was open to respondent No.1 to proceed with the field verification pursuant to the complaint lodged by the petitioner.
Respondent No.1 has filed an interlocutory application for vacation of the aforesaid interim order which has been registered as IA(C) No.1690/2016.
In the counter-affidavit filed by respondent No.1, it is stated that Circle Officer, Biswanath Revenue Circle vide his letter dated 15.12.2014 had submitted a verification report to the effect that the concerned Lat Mandal had verified the credentials of respondent No.2 and reported that he was infact an inhabitant of Morangaon village within Borgang Revenue Circle. It is further stated that the selection process was conducted as per the laid down procedure. Voters list may not be indicative of residential status of an individual. In so far complaint of the petitioner is concerned, it is stated that an inquiry was made in view of the complaint lodged by the petitioner in the course of which letter dated 05.08.2015 was issued by respondent No.1 to the Deputy Commissioner, Sonitpur to conduct an inquiry as to whether respondent No.2 was an inhabitant of village Morangaon or not and thereafter to inform respondent No.1 about the outcome of the inquiry.
In the interlocutory application, it is stated that Deputy Commissioner, Sonitpur vide his letter dated 28.12.2015 forwarded the verification report of the concerned Lat Mandal to respondent No.1; as per which, respondent No.2 was an inhabitant of Village-Morangaon and presently residing with his uncle and family at Village-Morangaon; besides, he also has a separate plot of land measuring 1 bigha covered by Dag No.332, Periodic Patta No.136 at Village-Morangaon under Behali Mouza. Therefore, it is contended that objection of the petitioner is without any substance.
Respondent No.2 in his counter-affidavit has stated that he is an inhabitant of Village- Morangaon under Borgang Gaon Panchayat within Biswanath Revenue Circle. Circle Officer of Biswanath Revenue Circle vide letter dated 15.12.2014 submitted verification report on the basis of local field inquiry; as per which it was clearly mentioned that respondent No.2 is an inhabitant of Village-Morangaon. It is further stated that respondent No.2 had joint family house at Village-Morangaon. In addition, he has land measuring 1 bigha covered by Dag No.332 patta No.136 at Village-Morangaon.
Petitioner has filed reply affidavit to the affidavit of respondent No.2.
Learned counsel for the petitioner in the course of his submission, referred to Clause-3 of the advertisement dated 29.12.2013 and contends that respondent No.2 does not fulfill the criteria as laid down in Clause-3 inasmuch as he is not a permanent resident of Village-Morangaon. He is a resident of Biswanath Chariali town. Merely having land or house at Village-Morangaon would not make respondent No.2 a resident of the said village for the purpose of allotment of LPG dealership under the Scheme having regard to the requirement of Clause-3. In support of his submission, Mr. Nath, learned counsel for the petitioner has placed reliance on a decision of this Court in Nandita Das Vs. Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd., 2015 (2) GLT 644.
Responding to the submission of learned counsel for the petitioner, Mr. Choudhury, learned Senior Counsel appearing for respondent No.1 submits that respondent No.1 was satisfied that respondent No.2 fulfills the criteria laid down in Clause-3. This satisfaction of respondent No.1 was based on report received from the revenue officials which was furnished following field verification. This view of respondent No.1 is not arbitrary or unreasonable to justify interference. In this connection, learned Senior Counsel has placed reliance on a decision of the Supreme Court in Air India Ltd. Vs. Cochin International Airport Ltd., (2000) 2 SCC 617. Further placing reliance on a decision of this Court in Vidyut Bikash Bora Vs. M/s. Indian Oil Corporation Ltd., (WP(C) Nos.1140 and 2945/2015), decided on 01.06.2017, learned Senior Counsel submits that the question as to whether respondent No.2 is a permanent resident of the concerned location or not is a disputed question of fact which may not be gone into in a writ petition. Decision taken by the authority on such a disputed question of fact, if it is not vitiated by any element of arbitrariness or unreasonableness, may be accepted. Additionally, Mr. Choud-hury further submits that just because a legal point is made out, the same would not justify interference by the writ court.
Submissions made by learned counsel for the parties have received the due consideration of this Court.
Since Clause-3 of the advertisement dated 29.12.2013 is center to the deliberation, the same, as translated by the petitioner, is extracted hereunder: -
"3. Eligibility criteria for all candidates:
All applicants for RGGLV must be
(a) An Indian citizen;
(b) Either a resident of the said village panchayat for which advertisement has been made or must be a resident of the said Revenue Circle on the date on which application has been made. Applicant must attach a permanent resident of certificate along with application form (as per Schedule C). At the time of selection for RGGLV, permanent resident under the mentioned Village Panchayat will be given priority. In case the same is not possible, then only the permanent resident of the relevant Revenue Circle will be considered."
A careful analysis of Clause-3(b) as extracted above reveals that the said Clause has got two parts. The first part deals with eligibility and the second part deals with preference at the time of selection. In so far the first part dealing with eligibility is concerned, the requirement is that a candidate applying for LPG dealership under the Scheme must either be a resident of the said village panchayat for which the advertisement has been made or must be a resident of the said revenue circle on the date of making the application. Thus the requirement is of being a resident of the location which is distinguishable and different from being a permanent resident. The first part of Clause 3(b) is distinguishable from the second part inasmuch as once the selection is made, priority would be given to a candidate having permanent residence in the concerned Gaon Panchayat and if no such candidate is available; a candidate being a permanent resident of the relevant revenue circle would be considered.
Therefore, on a comparative analysis of the two parts of Clause-3(b), it is seen that while eligibility requirement is of being a resident, during selection, priority would be given to a candidate having permanent resident.
In Election Commission of India Vs. Dr. Manmohan Singh, (2000) 1 SCC 591, the question arose as to the meaning of the expression ordinarily resident' in the context of the Representation of People Act, 1950. The Supreme Court held as under: -
"87. Accordingly, this writ petition is disposed of holding as follows:
(i) That the ordinarily resident in a constituency as mentioned in the Representation of the People Act, 1950 shall mean a habitual resident of that place or a resident as a matter of fact in regular, normal or usual course. It means an usual and normal resident of that place. The residence must be permanent in character and not temporary, or casual. It must be as above for a considerable time, he must have the intention to dwell permanently. He must have a settled abode at that place for a considerable length of time for which a reasonable man will accept him as the resident of that State."
In Nandita Das (supra), petitioner therein challenged her rejection on the ground that not being a permanent resident of the advertised location. It was found in the facts of that case that petitioner had purchased a plot of land before submission of application. In the factual context of that case and relying upon the judgment of the Supreme Court in Dr. Manmohan Singh (supra), a Single Bench of this Court held that merely because before submission of application, the petitioner had purchased a plot of land, having regard to the object of RGGLV, it would be impermissible to hold that by virtue of such purchase after publishing of the advertisement, one could become a resident of the advertised location. Therefore, rejection of the petitioner on the ground of not being a resident of the advertised location was not interfered with and the writ petition was dismissed.
The same is not the position in the present case. What is being contended by the petitioner is that while respondent No.2 has land at Morangaon, he ordinarily resides at Biswanath Chariali wherein he was enrolled as a voter. Field inquiry report from the revenue authority revealed that respondent No.2 is a resident of Village-Morangaon where he resides with his joint family, besides having another plot of land in the same village measuring 1 bigha. It is not the case of the petitioner that respondent No.2 had purchased this land post the advertisement or on the eve of advertisement to confer eligibility on him. A person may be a resident of more than one location; that would not divest him of his residentship in either of the two places. Eligibility required under Clause-3(b) is simply being a resident' of the advertised location in contradistinction to being a permanent resident' or even being an ordinarily resident'. In such situation, this Court in Vidyut Bikash Bora (supra), where residentship certificate was submitted at a later date, this Court held that an inquiry as to whether the candidate is a permanent resident of the concerned gaon panchayat area or not cannot be made in a writ petition, since determination of such an issue would depend upon several disputed questions of fact. As long as permanent residentship certificate issued in favour of the candidate holds the field, writ petitioner would not have any locus to assail the selection of the candidate on the ground of residential status. In that judgment, learned Single Judge referring to the decision of the Supreme Court in Air India Ltd. (supra), observed that if the decision making process does not suffer from arbitrariness or unreasonableness, interference by the writ court only on the making out of a legal point would not be justified.
Adverting to the present case, it is seen that as per letter dated 15.12.2014, issued by the Circle Officer, Biswanath Revenue Circle, respondent No.1 was informed that as per verification report of the concerned Lat Mandal, respondent No.2 was an inhabitant of Village-Morangaon. In the subsequent letter dated 28.12.2015 of the Addl. District Magistrate, Sonitpur in response to letter of respondent No.1 dated 05.08.2015, it was stated that respondent No.2 was an inhabitant of village Morangaon where he was jointly residing with his uncle and family at House No.11 in a plot of land covered by Dag No. 224 of PP No.187. In addition, respondent No.2 also holds a plot of land measuring 1 bigha covered by Dag No.332 of PP No.136.
Therefore, in the above factual backdrop, it cannot be said that respondent No.2 does not fulfill the criteria as laid down in Clause-3 (b) of the advertisement dated 29.12.2013. Therefore, the decision of respondent No.1 in selecting respondent No.2 cannot be faulted on this ground.
Consequently, writ petition is dismissed.
Interim order passed earlier stands vacated. ;