HC refuses to entertain PIL to cancel lease of Kandla Port land to firm

It had earlier reserved its verdict on September 24

New Delhi.

The Delhi High Court on Monday refused to entertain a PIL seeking cancellation of a lease awarding 50 acres of land at Kandla Port in Gujarat to a private firm.

A bench of Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Justice V K Rao said the petition was not maintainable on grounds of lack of territorial jurisdiction and asked the petitioner to approach the proper forum.

The court passed the verdict on the petition filed by NGO, Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL).

It had earlier reserved its verdict on September 24 after hearing the arguments of the counsel for the petitioner, the Centre and Kandla Port Trust (KPT), now known as Deendayal Port Trust.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO, had earlier alleged that KPT overvalued the structures set up at the site by the firm, Friends Salt Works and Allied Industries (FSWAI), when it had leased the land in the past, to ensure that only the firm gets the contract.

The Centre had opposed the petition on grounds of lack of territorial jurisdiction.

Additional Solicitor General Sandeep Sethi had argued that the tender was invited at Gujarat, the property concerned was situated in Gujarat where the bidding cum auction was conducted and no cause of action arose within the jurisdiction of the Delhi High Court.

Senior advocate A S Chandiok, appearing for the port trust, had also said the petition was not maintainable on grounds of lack of territorial jurisdiction.

He said merely because the Union of India has been arrayed as a party respondent, would not confer the right to the petitioner to file the plea here and even no relief had been sought against the Centre.

The petition claimed that FSWAI did not have to pay the amount of Rs 207 crore if it was successful in the bid and added that under the earlier lease agreement KPT did not have any contractual obligation to compensate the firm for its assets.

The NGO had sought that if the lease awarded to the firm in April 2015 was not cancelled, then the amount of Rs 207 crore be recovered from it.

"The introduction of said clause in the tender (to compensate FSWAI) is illegal and arbitrary since it was the responsibility of FSWAI to remove the structures before the expiry of the earlier lease. The additional burden of Rs 207 crore on other bidders put them at a significant disadvantage and ensured that the said tender would be awarded to FSWAI," the NGO alleged in its plea.

CPIL had earlier raised the issue in a fresh application moved in a pending petition which alleged that a huge scam had taken place during 1960s and 1970s when plots near Kandla Port were leased out on nomination basis to private parties without a bidding process.

The court, however, had asked the NGO to file a separate petition to challenge the new lease and subsequently it filed the instant PIL.

The earlier PIL had also alleged irregularities in allotment of 16,000 acres of government land which caused a huge loss to the state.

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