Decided on June 28,1974



- (1.) THIS appeal has been preferred against the judgment of a learned judge of this court allowing O. P. No. 1546 of 1974. Respondents Nos. 3, 4 and 5 in the original petition are the appellants before us. The petitioner in O. P. No. 1546 of 1974 is the 1st respondent in this appeal. The parties will hereafter be referred to in accordance with their array and ranking in the original petition.
(2.) THE writ petitioner as well as respondents Nos. 3 to 5 are all cooperative societies. A fairly large extent of forest lands in the vazhachal range had been earmarked for being leased out for a special type of cultivation which goes by the name 'taungya Cultivation'. Under this system of cultivation the grantee is required to clear the land of forest growth so as to make it suitable for being planted with teak and yacalyptus plants and is allowed simultaneously to cultivate the "said land for a period of two years. During the first year the grantee is permitted to cultivate the land with paddy while the department will carry out the planting of the yucalyptus plants. During the second year the grantee is allowed to cultivate tapioca on the land in the spaces intervening between the tapioca and teak plants raised by the department. At the end of two years the rights of the grantee terminate and the department will assume complete control over the land. THE policy that was originally being followed in regard to the grant of such licences for taungya Cultivation was to put to auction the right to cultivate the lands under the said system. On 15-12-1967 Government issued G. O. MS. 486/67/agri. Ext. P1 laying down a revised policy in regard to the said matter. Under that order the Government announced its decision that co-operative societies interested in entering the filed of Taungya Cultivation should be given special consideration. Accordingly it was directed by Para. 2 of Ext. P1 that whenever co-operative societies come forward for taking up Taungya Cultivation, forest lands available for such cultivation should be leased out to such societies on negotiated terras and conditions. It was further directed that the rent to be paid by the co-operative societies should be fixed at 5% above the average of the bid amount fetched during the previous year worked out on a divisional basis. THEre are also some other provisions contained in Ext. P1 but they are not relevant for our present purpose and hence it is unnecessary to advert to them. With a view to remove some doubts and difficulties experienced by the department in the matter of implementation of the instructions given as per ext. P1 Government issued certain clarifications as per G. O. MS. 240/agri. dated 3 51968 (Ext. P2 ). It was directed by the said order that for purposes of fixation of the rent to be paid by the co-operative societies to which forest lands are leased out for Taungya Cultivation pursuant to Ext. P1 the average of the bid amount fetched during the previous year should be worked out by adopting each range as a unit instead of each division as had been originally ordered in Ext. P1. Government also incorporated in Ext. P2 instructions as to the procedure to be followed by the officers empowered to lease out the land in cases where too many societies come forward requesting for the grant of the same land. The 2nd respondent the Divisional Forest Officer, vazhachal Industrial Plantation Division issued Ext. P3 notice dated 14-2-1974 announcing that the right of cultivation under the Taungya system in respect of the areas comprised in 22 blocks specified in the schedule appended to the said notification for the period of two years ending on 3131976 would be sold by him in public auction at his office at 11 A. M. on 18 3 1974. It was clearly specified in Ext. P3 that co-operative societies would be given preference in the matter of granting the lease and that interested societies should apply in writing on or before 11-3-1974 stating the name of the coupe, the extent of the area required and the name of the range wherein the land is situated. In response to Ext. P3 the writ petitioner society applied fen blocks 2, 3, 8 and 15 situated within the Vazhachal range. It would appear that applications had been received from as many as 93 co-operative societies including respondents nos. 3 to 6 and some of them had applied for the very same blocks which had been applied for by the petitioner. All the applications were referred to a committee constituted for the said purpose as per G. O. Rt. 2966/69/ad. dated 2811 1969 (Ext RI ). The said committee consisted of the Divisional Forest officer, Deputy Registrar of Co-operative Societies, the Sub-Collector/revenue divisional Officer and the Block Development Officer of the area. The committee considered all the applications at its meeting held on 16 31974 and allotments were made to 22 societies giving one block to each of them. The committee also prepared a waiting list consisting of 5 societies for allotment of blocks, if any, that may fall vacant if any of the allottees of the 22 blocks failed to take the allotted block after executing the necessary agreement. The name of the petitioner society was not included in the select list of allottees but the petitioner has been assigned the first place in the waiting list. The writ petition was filed by the petitioner for quashing the said selection in so far as it relates to blocks Nos. 2, 3, 8 and 15 for which the petitioner society had made the application and for the issuance of a writ of mandamus directing respondents Nos. 1 and 2 to consider afresh the petitioner's application in accordance with the provisions contained in Ext. P2. The main contention taken in the writ petition is that the impugned selection has been made arbitrarily without following the procedure prescribed in Exts. P1 and P2 and in violation of some of the principles laid down in those orders. It is alleged in the original petition that the petitioner society is functioning within the Vazhachal range and was therefore entitled to preference in the matter of grant of lands situated within that range but instead of recognising this superior claim of the petitioner society allotments were made in favour of respondents Nos. 3 to 6 who have no interest whatever in the said range and the petitioner's application was rejected without any justifiable reasons. It is also alleged that no conference of the various applicants who had requested for allotment of blocks Nos. 2,3, 8 and 15 was convened by respondents Nos. 1 and 2 as enjoined by Ext. P2. The petitioner contends that since the selection was made without following the procedural requirements laid down in Ext. P2 it is null and void.
(3.) THE writ petition was resisted by the respondents by contending inter alia that the writ petitioner has no locus standi at all to seek relief from this court under Art. 226 of the Constitution since the petitioner had no legal right to get a lease of the Government lands and the impugned decision taken by the committee to allot the lands in favour of the 22 societies including respondents Nos. 3 to 6 was purely executive in character and involved no infringement of any right of the petitioner. It was also submitted on behalf of the respondents that since the provisions contained in exts. P1 and P2 are only in the nature of administrative instructions issued by the Government to its subordinate officers, they do not operate to confer any legal or enforceable rights on private persons and hence even if it is to be assumed that there has been some violation of the procedure laid down in Exts. P1 and P2 in making the impugned allotment that will not give rise to any cause of action justiciable under Art. 226 of the Constitution. On the merits the respondents stoutly denied the petitioner's allegation that the selection had been made arbitrarily without adhering to the principles laid down by the government. It was submitted that all the applications received in response to ext. P3 had been duly considered by the committee constituted for the purpose under the Government order Ext. RI and the selection was made by the committee only strictly in accordance with the guidelines issued by the Government. THE petitioner's allegation that it is a society functioning within the limits of the Vazhachal range and was entitled to preference on that ground has been refuted by the respondents and it has been categorically sworn to by the divisional Forest Officer in his counter-affidavit that the area of operation of the petitioner society does not fall within the Vazhachal territorial range nor even within any of the four ranges of the Vazhachal Industrial Plantation division and that therefore the petitioner society was not entitled to any preference under the terms of Ext. P2 in the matter of the grant of the lease. The learned single judge first considered the question whether the impugned selection was made in accordance with the principles laid down in Exts. P1 and P2 and came to the finding that in making the selection some of the directions contained in Ext. P2 had been violated. It was held that the selection had to be regarded as arbitrary in as much as the minutes of the committee evidenced by Ext. R2 did not contain any indication as to the criteria adopted by it in the matter of making the said selection and the reason why the 22 societies had been chosen in preference to others.;

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