Writ jurisdiction is generally understood and was always intended by our constitutional forefathers to serve as a route for public remedy. However, this has not stopped remedy seekers from exploring the same as a unique and rare opportunity to seek contractual relief from the government. In the recent case of Gwalior Development Authority vs Bhanu Pratap Singh, the division bench of the Supreme Court of India had an opportunity to adjudicate exactly that.
Bhanu Pratap Singh participated in the bidding for the grant of lease of plots from the Gwalior Development Authority. The Gwalior Development Authority chose his bid as he was the highest bidder. He was issued an allotment letter and the authority demanded him to deposit the entire bid amount within the stipulated time period, on the failure of which his security deposit would be forfeited. Bhanu failed to deposit the entire amount in time, and only deposited it 5 years later. The authority surprisingly did not cancel the allotment or forfeit the security deposit. Bhanu was instead given a lease for a smaller portion of land instead. The lease deed was even duly registered as per the Registration Act, 1908. 3 years later, Bhanu approached the Madhya Pradesh High Court seeking a writ of mandamus against the authority to execute the lease deed for the remaining area.
The High Court allowed a writ petition and directed the authority to execute a lease deed for Bhanu Pratap for the remaining plot area. Bhanu was also directed to make interest payments on the delayed installments. The authority challenged the order, arguing that the auction proceedings had concluded with the lease deed's execution and that the transaction had finality. The authority argued that the lease deed was a pure business transaction and that the direction to execute the remaining area without consideration was not permissible under Article 226 of the Constitution. Bhanu argued that the authority’s execution of the lease deed and failure to take further action for allotment of the remaining area compelled him to invoke the High Court's jurisdiction.
The High Court allowed a writ petition and directed the authority to execute a lease deed for Bhanu for the remaining extent. In appeal, the Supreme Court ruled that the authority’s lenience amounted to violation of Article 14 of the Constitution and was a clear abuse of discretion. When the lease deed was executed without demur on March 29, 2006, the transaction was final. The court concluded that once a lease transaction is concluded and registered, it cannot be altered or amended by the High Court. The Supreme Court has ruled that a writ petition is not maintainable to seek contractual relief, as it is a public law remedy and not available in private law. However, exceptions may warrant invocation of writ jurisdiction in contractual matters.