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While dismissing a petition to shut down public sector undertakings during the lockdown, the Delhi High Court has stated that courts cannot sit in appeal over Executive Policy, least of all during the COVID-19 pandemic, unless such policy is tainted in law.
The order was passed by a Division Bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice C Hari Shankar in a petition by Advocate Anil K Aggarwal.
The petitioner's grievance was directed at the decision of several PSUs, such as Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL), National Buildings Construction Corporation (India) Ltd (NBCC), Engineers India Ltd (EIL), Indian Railways Construction International Ltd (IRCON) etc, to open their offices and establishments.
It was Petitioner's case that such a decision was in breach of Order of April 15 issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
The Petitioner contended that PSUs would not be covered by para 18 (ii) of the Order, vide which the Central Government directed its employees, above a particular level, to attend office w.e.f. April 20, 2020, till the expiry of the lockdown period.
After hearing the Petitioner, the Court, at the outset, noted that these Guidelines which have been issued are sui generis as such a situation of the magnitude of COVID-19 had never been witnessed.
It clarified that the issue before it was not whether, etymologically, PSUs could be regarded as “offices under the control of” the Government.
The question was whether any case existed to justify a mandamus by this Court to all PSUs to shut down forthwith, it added.
Under the prevailing circumstances, the Court stated that a "fine and nice balance" is to be struck by the Executive in safeguarding the concerns of health and economy, without compromising on either.
The Court perused the Guidelines issued by the Authorities and opined that the decision regarding the precise extent to which the lockdown should be imposed was one in which the interference of judiciary must be reduced to a bare minimum.
It stated that while continuing to exercise judicial vigil over the acts of the Executive, in times like these, the Courts have to take care that they do not rock the boat, ending up doing more harm than good.
The balance required to be maintained by the judiciary is, therefore, just as delicate, and fragile, the Court said.
The Court thus stated that at this juncture, it must defer to the wisdom of the Executive, and interference would be justified only where the exercise of such wisdom is tainted in law or some other reason.
The Court recorded that in the present case, the April 15 Order consciously included operation of factories and establishments within the scope of the relaxations.
Thus, observing that the writ petition did not level any allegation of malafides against the Executive, the Court opined that no case existed for the issuance of a writ of mandamus to shut down all public Sector undertakings.
The Petition was accordingly dismissed.
Read the Order: