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Public interest Litigation – arose out of accidental death of petitioner’s son to provide and to follow road rule – scope of the writ metamorphosed and included the validity of contract between M/s. Soma Isolux NH One Tollway Pvt. Ltd. and NHAI – High court gave certain directions – Apex court set aside the order of High court and allowed the appeal on the ground that exercising jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India is an act of judicial overreach under the garb of public interest and on the ground that the terms and conditions of a concluded contract can not be nullified by the High Court by issuing sweeping directions in an ongoing Public Interest Litigation Petition which renders the terms and conditions of the Concession Agreement between the contracting parties redundant at the instance and initiative of the Court itself when such directions has not even been sought by any of the parties to the Public Interest Petition and on the ground that Bench of the High Court which is seized of a particular dispute would not be justified in not taking note of the final judgment and order passed earlier by a co-ordinate Bench settling the said controversy in view of which no direction could be issued by the High Court nullifying the contractual rights of the affected party = M/S. SOMA ISOLUX NH ONE TOLLWAY PRIVATE LIMITED . Appellant Versus HARISH KUMAR PURI & ORS. ..Respondents=2014 (April.Part ) http://judis.nic.in/supremecourt/filename=41427

 Public interest Litigation – arose out of accidental death of petitioner’s son to provide and to follow road rule – scope of the writ metamorphosed and included the validity of contract between M/s.  Soma Isolux  NH  One  Tollway  Pvt.  Ltd.  and NHAI – High court gave certain directions – Apex court set aside the order of High court and allowed the appeal on the ground that exercising jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India  is an act of judicial overreach under the garb of public interest and on the ground that the terms and conditions  of  a  concluded  contract  can  not be nullified by the High Court by issuing sweeping directions in  an  ongoing Public Interest Litigation Petition which renders the terms and conditions of the Concession Agreement between the contracting parties  redundant  at

 the instance and initiative of the Court itself when such  directions  has not even been sought  by  any  of  the  parties  to  the  Public  Interest Petition and on the ground that Bench of the High Court which is  seized  of  a  particular dispute would not be justified in not taking note of the  final  judgment  and order passed earlier by a co-ordinate Bench settling the said  controversy

 in view of which no direction could be issued by the High Court nullifying the contractual rights of the affected party =

Public Interest Litigation Petition –   High Court  whereby

 certain adverse directions to be related hereinafter  were  issued  having

 grave implication on the contractual rights of the  appellant-  M/s.  Soma

 Isolux  NH  One  Tollway  Pvt.  Ltd.  (hereinafter  referred  to  as  ‘the

 Concessionaire company’) as it was saddled with a fine of Rs.60 crores and

 Rs.7 crores to be paid by the  appellant-Concessionaire  Company  and  its

 Director respectively which  were  to  be  deposited  with  the  Registrar

 General of the High Court within one month of the date of the order.   

The

 respondent No.6 National Highways Authority of India (shortly referred  to

 as ‘the NHAI’) was further directed to proceed in the matter forthwith and

 take possession of the Highway project and ensure that collection of  toll

 is deposited in a separate account and the work of repairs of the  highway

 commenced within a week and the work of construction of highway  commenced

 and completed within a month thereafter.  

The High  Court  further  issued

 direction that the entire matter relating to the contract, the  completion

 of the work of the highway, collection from tolls without existence of six-

 lanes be enquired into and a report in that regard be  placed  before  the

 High Court within three months.  

It was also made clear that  the  enquiry

 shall not be construed to be an excuse to delay the  construction  of  the

 highway.  

It was  further  observed  that  the  Chairman,  NHAI  shall  be

 personally responsible for ensuring that the work  of  six-laning  of  the

 highway between Panipat and  Jullunder  is  completed  within  six  months

 failing which the Chairman, NHAI would be held personally  liable  to  pay

 fine  similar  to  the  terms  imposed  on  the   Concessionaire   Company

 –respondent No.7.  

The appellant-Concessionaire  Company  has,  therefore,

 come up to this Court challenging the impugned order passed  by  the  High

 Court.=

     i    Whether the directions issued  by  the  High  Court  which  have  far

 reaching  consequences  against   the   petitioner/appellant   and   which

 directions by a judicial fiat, has the effect of nullifying the  terms  of

 the  Concession  Agreement  dated  09.05.2008  defeating  the  rights  and

 obligations arising  therefrom  in  a  Public  Interest  Litigation  while

 exercising jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India  is

 an act of judicial overreach under the garb of public interest?

 ii   Whether the terms and conditions  of  a  concluded  contract  can  be

 nullified by the High Court by issuing sweeping directions in  an  ongoing

 Public Interest Litigation Petition which renders the terms and conditions

 of the Concession Agreement between the contracting parties  redundant  at

 the instance and initiative of the Court itself when such  directions  has

 not even been sought  by  any  of  the  parties  to  the  Public  Interest

 Petition?

 iii  Whether a Bench of the High Court which is  seized  of  a  particular

 dispute would be justified in not taking note of the  final  judgment  and

 order passed earlier by a co-ordinate Bench settling the said  controversy

 in view of which no direction could be issued by the High Court nullifying

 the contractual rights of the affected party?          =                                            

In

 the PIL, the respondent No.1 Mr. Puri prayed for issuance of a writ in the

 nature of mandamus directing for  enforcement  of  traffic  rules  and  to

 maintain the signal system, rumble strips on crossing,  first  aid  units,

 control over speeding on G.T. Road National Highway  No.1  and  a  further

 writ or direction holding the State functionaries liable for the  criminal

 negligence on the part of  its  employees  and  saddle  it  with  monetary

 liability.

over  the  years

 metamorphosed into a long drawn litigation alleging breach of  contractual

 obligations  between  the   appellant-concessionaire   company   and   the

 respondent No.7 NHAI wherein the respondent Union of  India  as  also  the

 respondent/PIL petitioner in the High Court  have  jumped  into  the  fray

 giving rise to several rounds of litigation=

Conclusion

As a consequence and fall out of the above position, we deem it

  just and appropriate  to set aside  the impugned directions of  the  High

 Court, and   permit the appellant to restore  the  construction   of   the

 balance stretch/area of  the highway project by further directing the NHAI

 to permit the appellant to shift the Toll Plaza from  KM 146 to any  point

 between KMs 110 and KMs 117 with concurrence  of  the  NHAI.  

 The   exact

 point of construction of Toll Plaza between KMs 110  to KMs 117 shall thus

 be  decided  by  the  NHAI   holding   mutual    consultation   with   the

 appellant/concessionaire in the light of the approval already  granted  by

 the Independent Engineer in terms of the Agreement  which  also  had  been

 approved by the High Court earlier.  

However, we take  note  of  the  fact

 that  the High Court  although  by  its  order  referred  to  hereinbefore

 permitted shifting  of the Toll Plaza in dispute  to point KM 110, we have

 noticed that the distance  between KMs 96 where Toll Plaza of  L  &  T  is

 existing and the proposed toll plaza at KMs 110 would be at a distance  of

 only 14 KMs which may not be in the interest of the  commuting public and,

 therefore,  we direct that the shifting although may not be  permitted  at

 KMs 110, it may be allowed to be  shifted  at any point   between KMs  110

 and KMs 117 in consultation and with concurrence of the NHAI.  

In fact, we

  could have   directed the appellant to shift the Toll Plaza  even  beyond

 117, KMs but we have been informed that  beyond KM 117 the area is thickly

 populated  and would not be practically possible  to   set  up   the  Toll

 Plaza  beyond KMs 117.

 67.         Therefore, and in order to facilitate and expedite  completion

 of the Highway Project, we direct the respondent NHAI to  permit  shifting

 of  Toll  Plaza  from  146  to  anywhere  between  KMs  110  and  KMs  117

 expeditiously  but not later than a period of  two months from the date of

 this order during which period the required legal formality  of  notifying

 the area for construction of the Toll Plaza shall also be complied with by

 the NHAI by getting it notified through the Competent Authority and making

 the land available free from all encumbrance.  

 The  appellant  thereafter

 shall forthwith restart the construction  including  setting  up  of  Toll

 Plaza at the agreed point and continue with construction of the  remaining

 area of the Highway Project and shall complete the entire construction  of

 the  Highway  on  or  before   31st  of  March  2015  failing  which   the

 appellant/concessionaire company shall be liable for penal consequences to

 be determined by the NHAI in terms of the Concession Agreement.

 68.         The appellant/concessionaire company is  further  directed  to

 report/update the progress/development of the construction  to   the  NHAI

 referred to in the Concession Agreement  after every three months from the

 date of  compliance  of the required statutory  notification  for shifting

 of Toll Plaza  at the instance of  the NHAI and   the   Ministry  of  Road

 Transport and Highways/any other  competent  authority.      

However,   we

 make it explicitly clear that no dispute shall be  allowed  to  be  raised

 further by any of the parties  before any court which may impede  or  slow

 down the progress of completion of the Highway Project  as  this   measure

 most certainly would not be in the interest of  the  Highway  Project  and

 consequently not in public interest in any  manner.    

However,  the  main

 contesting parties i.e. the appellant-Concessionaire Company and the  NHAI

 would be at liberty to  seek  such other or further  direction  from  this

 Court in case there is   bona fide need to resort to such  an  eventuality

 in regard to the Highway Project referred to  in  the  Agreement.      

The

 appeal  accordingly is allowed  but  in    the  circumstances   leave  the

 parties  to  bear  the costs on their own.



2014 (April.Part ) http://judis.nic.in/supremecourt/filename=41427


GYAN SUDHA MISRA, PINAKI CHANDRA GHOSE

REPORTABLE
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CIVIL APPEAL NO. 4611 OF 2014
(Arising out of SLP (Civil) No. 19379/2013)
M/S. SOMA ISOLUX NH ONE TOLLWAY
PRIVATE LIMITED . Appellant
Versus
HARISH KUMAR PURI & ORS. ..Respondents

 
J U D G M E N T

 
GYAN SUDHA MISRA, J.
1. Leave granted.
2. This appeal by special leave has been filed assailing the order
dated 27.5.2013 passed by the High Court of Punjab and Haryana at
Chandigarh in C.M.No. 3301/2013 arising out of CWP No. 13848/1998 whereby
certain adverse directions to be related hereinafter were issued having
grave implication on the contractual rights of the appellant- M/s. Soma
Isolux NH One Tollway Pvt. Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as ‘the
Concessionaire company’) as it was saddled with a fine of Rs.60 crores and
Rs.7 crores to be paid by the appellant-Concessionaire Company and its
Director respectively which were to be deposited with the Registrar
General of the High Court within one month of the date of the order. The
respondent No.6 National Highways Authority of India (shortly referred to
as ‘the NHAI’) was further directed to proceed in the matter forthwith and
take possession of the Highway project and ensure that collection of toll
is deposited in a separate account and the work of repairs of the highway
commenced within a week and the work of construction of highway commenced
and completed within a month thereafter. The High Court further issued
direction that the entire matter relating to the contract, the completion
of the work of the highway, collection from tolls without existence of six-
lanes be enquired into and a report in that regard be placed before the
High Court within three months. It was also made clear that the enquiry
shall not be construed to be an excuse to delay the construction of the
highway. It was further observed that the Chairman, NHAI shall be
personally responsible for ensuring that the work of six-laning of the
highway between Panipat and Jullunder is completed within six months
failing which the Chairman, NHAI would be held personally liable to pay
fine similar to the terms imposed on the Concessionaire Company
–respondent No.7. The appellant-Concessionaire Company has, therefore,
come up to this Court challenging the impugned order passed by the High
Court.
3. The substantial questions of law of general and public
importance that emerge for consideration in this appeal inter alia may be
crystallised as follows:
i Whether the directions issued by the High Court which have far
reaching consequences against the petitioner/appellant and which
directions by a judicial fiat, has the effect of nullifying the terms of
the Concession Agreement dated 09.05.2008 defeating the rights and
obligations arising therefrom in a Public Interest Litigation while
exercising jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India is
an act of judicial overreach under the garb of public interest?
ii Whether the terms and conditions of a concluded contract can be
nullified by the High Court by issuing sweeping directions in an ongoing
Public Interest Litigation Petition which renders the terms and conditions
of the Concession Agreement between the contracting parties redundant at
the instance and initiative of the Court itself when such directions has
not even been sought by any of the parties to the Public Interest
Petition?
iii Whether a Bench of the High Court which is seized of a particular
dispute would be justified in not taking note of the final judgment and
order passed earlier by a co-ordinate Bench settling the said controversy
in view of which no direction could be issued by the High Court nullifying
the contractual rights of the affected party?
4. In order to appreciate and adjudicate the controversy involved
and to put the matter in proper perspective certain factual background may
be related which disclose that this appeal by way of special leave
petition has its genesis in a writ petition bearing CWP No. 13848/1998
which came to be filed in the High Court of Punjab and Haryana at
Chandigarh as a public interest litigation on 25.7.1998 by the respondent
No.1 herein Harish Kumar Puri whose son had died in a road accident on
14.5.1996 at Pipli Chowk, Kurukshetra due to the criminal negligence
alleged on the part of the traffic police posted on the said chowk. In
the PIL, the respondent No.1 Mr. Puri prayed for issuance of a writ in the
nature of mandamus directing for enforcement of traffic rules and to
maintain the signal system, rumble strips on crossing, first aid units,
control over speeding on G.T. Road National Highway No.1 and a further
writ or direction holding the State functionaries liable for the criminal
negligence on the part of its employees and saddle it with monetary
liability.
5. Interestingly, this writ petition which was filed as a PIL with
the laudable object of improving management of traffic on the highway in
the interest of the commuters and the public at large over the years
metamorphosed into a long drawn litigation alleging breach of contractual
obligations between the appellant-concessionaire company and the
respondent No.7 NHAI wherein the respondent Union of India as also the
respondent/PIL petitioner in the High Court have jumped into the fray
giving rise to several rounds of litigation. In the process it affected
the very purpose and object for which the writ petition had been filed as
also the construction of the Highway for which a concession agreement had
been executed between the appellant-concessionaire company and the
respondent No.6 NHAI by way of a competitive bidding process during
pendency of the PIL as a step towards resolving the issue of management of
traffic.
6. While tracing out the background of the matter, bereft of not
so essential factual details, it may be sufficient to state that the
Division Bench of the High Court issued notice of motion on 1.9.1998 in
the writ petition (PIL) which came up before the High Court for
consideration from time to time spanning over several years and finally on
11.4.2002, an order was passed by the High Court on 11.4.2002 for
impleading the Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Road
Transport and Highways, New Delhi when the issue camp up regarding non-
opening of the railway bridge near Dera Bassi for the general public.
Several years thereafter, notice was also issued to the National Highways
Authority of India (NHAI) to appear before the High Court through its
authorized representative as on 9.5.2008 a Concession Agreement had been
executed between NHAI and the appellant-company since the appellant
succeeded in a competitive bidding process by which it was granted
exclusive rights, license and authority to construct, operate and maintain
its project namely, six-laning of a part of NH 1 from KM 96.00 to KM
387.100 (approximately 291.10 KM) from Panipat to Jullundur for a period
of 15 years. While awarding the contract, the credentials and track
record of the appellant was taken note of which indicated that the
appellant M/s Soma Isolux NH One Tollway Pvt. Ltd. is a joint venture
company with Isolux Corsan Group which is a multinational company having
vast experience of Infrastructure Development in various part of the world
including Europe, South America, North America and Asia and has
successfully developed Highway Projects in various countries including
Spain, Mexico, Brazil, India etc. Isolux Corsan Group is the leading
European Investor in infrastructure in India and M/s Soma Enterprise Ltd.
is a renowned Development Construction firm and has several National
Highway Projects in the past 13 years and have completed projects ahead of
schedule. It has also undertaken and completed projects in other
infrastructure sectors like Irrigation Hydro Power and Railways.
7. The Concession Agreement envisaged reciprocal obligations from
various parties including NHAI, the State of Haryana and the State of
Punjab. Under Clause 4.1.2 (a) NHAI is/was required to provide right of
way and the appellant-company is/was entitled to demand and collect
appropriate fee commonly known as toll fee from vehicles and persons
liable to pay toll fee for using the national highway. The Concession
Agreement was drafted as per the model approved by the Planning Commission
of India and the draft concession was in fact circulated with the RFP
(Tender Document) and, therefore, neither the appellant-company nor the
NHAI could have changed the contents of the agreement pursuant to the
award of contract.
8. In so far as the financing and investment to the Highway
Project is concerned the agreement envisaged that the appellant-company
and the NHAI would be on the basis of Build, Operate, Trade (BOT) mode
which enumerated that the project being in BOT mode, all investment in the
project will have to be made by the appellant-company by the income
generated from toll collection and no amount was to be invested/received
from the NHAI. On the contrary, the appellant-company as per the
Agreement, offered to pay to the respondent/NHAI premium equal to 20.14
per cent of the total collection of toll for the first year and this
premium was to be increased by one per cent every subsequent year. Based
on a detailed analysis of the Concession Agreement, the NHAI thus is not
only not funding any part of the project development cost, it is receiving
a significant portion of the revenue collected as premium by way of
collection of toll. However all the amount collected by way of toll were
to be deposited in the ESCROW account as a result of which any amount from
this account cannot be withdrawn by the appellant without signature from
the other contracting party i.e. NHAI. It may further be noted that the
agreement between the appellant and respondent/NHAI acknowledges and
confirms the role of lending institutions, mainly nationalised banks as a
major significant holder in project implementation. All the financial
agreement dealing in the administration occurred between lending
institutions and the appellant and the financial model for the project had
been submitted regarding revenue and approval prior to the commencement of
the project. Agreement entered into between the appellant/company and the
NHAI also envisages continuous support and co-operation from the
respective State Governments of Punjab and Haryana and the Concession
Agreement as per Article 47.3 requires the execution of Tripartite State
Support Agreement between NHAI, Concessionaire and respective State
Governments for which support agreements were signed by the State of
Punjab on 11.9.2009 and the State of Haryana on 16.9.2009. As per the
agreement six laning was to be retrofitted on the existing four-lane as
per standards and specifications which temporarily was to put the
travelling public to some inconvenience. On 8.9.2008, the Division Bench
of the High Court which was seized of the matter passed an order
impleading M/s. Himalayan Expressway Limited as respondent No.7 herein and
on 11.9.2009 the State Support Agreement mentioned hereinbefore was
executed between the Governor of the State of Punjab, NHAI and the
appellant-company regarding the obligations of the Government of Punjab
and its continued support for grant of certain rights and authorities for
mobilization of resources by the appellant-company. The agreement
visualizes continuous support and co-operation of the Government of
Punjab.
9. In the meantime, the writ petition/Public Interest Litigation
which was pending in the High Court during pendency of which the
Concession Agreement was executed, continued to be taken up by the High
Court and various directions came to be passed from time to time by the
High Court in course of hearing of the PIL.
10. The High Court thereafter vide order dated 2.1.2012 on an oral
request impleaded the appellant-company as a party respondent and issued
notice to it on 2.1.2012 to ascertain the progress of the Highway Project.
The appellant-company responded to the notice and sought time to file its
reply. Thereafter, on 28.1.2012, an affidavit was filed by the Project
Chairman, NHAI, Ambala before the High Court in the pending PIL informing
the status of Panipat – Jullundur Section of NH 1 stretch from KM 96.000
to KM 387.100 wherein it was stated that the Concessionaire-appellant
company could not achieve the milestone –II on the specified date due to
delay in various clearance, tree cutting, utility shifting etc. and
further stated that the scheduled six laning date has been extended to
15.6.2012. In the meantime and in response to the notice, the appellant
also had filed affidavit on 12.3.2012 giving details of the progress of
the construction on the highway as also the difficulties and impediments
encountered in the construction.
11. The High Court however refused to consider even remotely the
reasons for the delay in the progress of the Highway Construction, much
less scrutinized it and further failed to examine or even visualise as to
why the appellant/concessionaire company, which within a period of three
years had constructed 71 % of the highway project had suddenly slowed down
for the rest 29% of the project. In the process it further refused to
consider whether there were bonafide reasons for the delay on the part of
the appellant/concessionaire company or the delay was on account of the
impediments created by the NHAI violating the terms and conditions of the
Agreement as also ignored even the reasoned judicial orders passed earlier
by a co-ordinate Bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court itself which
had permitted the appellant to shift the toll plaza in view of the terms
and conditions in the Agreement which were conveniently ignored by the
NHAI contrary to the opinion of its own Independent Engineer whose opinion
in terms of the Agreement was binding on the NHAI and the same has been
upheld by the High Court by several judgments and orders settling the
controversy. It further failed to take note of the fact that the High
Court itself had stayed the show cause notice issued by the NHAI to the
appellant/company for terminating the contract and had it not been
stayed/ordered to be kept in abeyance, the cause as to whether the delay
was on the part of the appellant/company or on account of unreasonable
stand of the NHAI which was contrary to the terms and conditions of the
Concessionaire Agreement would have come to the fore. However, the High
Court never addressed itself on these aspects but was pleased to pass an
order on 13.3.2012 inter alia directing the functional head of the
appellant-company as also the Director-Officer-Incharge of the Project to
remain present in Court on the adjourned date of hearing. The presence of
the Chief General Manager of the NHAI along with the Project Director was
also ordered as it was directed that the representative of the
Concessionaire company as well as the NHAI will come prepared to respond
to all questions as may be raised by the Court with regard to the
completion of the project within a particular time frame and shall also
come ready to execute the necessary undertakings before the Court for
completion of the project with the time schedule.
12. The matter was thereafter listed before the High Court on
22.3.2012 wherein it was submitted that the Haryana Section of the Six
Lane Highway was expected to be complete by December 2012 and the Punjab
Section was expected to be complete by March 2013. The High Court however
failed to scrutinise the cause of delay and refused to take into
consideration the terms of the Concession Agreement under which the
respondent No.6 NHAI was under the contractual obligation to grant
approval to shifting of Toll Plazas, straightaway perhaps on an overall
impression observed that there has been inordinate delay in conducting the
project and hence directed the appellant-company to submit an undertaking
before the Court for completion of the project as per the schedule
mentioned by the appellant No.2 before the High Court in the form of an
affidavit.
13. In compliance to the same, a detailed affidavit further was
filed by the appellant No.2 on behalf of the appellant-company wherein it
was submitted inter alia that there were certain bottlenecks existing
between the appellant/company and the respondent NHAI in regard to
contractual violations which were adversely affecting the efforts of the
appellant/Concessionaire company in achieving the project completion.
However, it was added that the Concessionaire-company shall be making all
out efforts to complete the project highway within 12 months from the date
of clearance of all obstructions that currently existed between the
appellant and the NHAI. The High Court, however, directed the appellant
to file a clarificatory affidavit by 2 o’clock on the same date which was
submitted in the Court.
14. However, in order to check the authenticity of the difficulties
expressed by the appellant, the High Court thought it appropriate to get
it verified by directing the parties to hold a joint meeting of the
appellant/Concessionaire company and the respondent/NHAI and any other
authority that may be involved and steps be taken to remove the
obstructions and difficulties in completing the construction of the
highway if that were found to be actually existing. It was also directed
that a report in this regard including such steps as may be taken for
completing the project be submitted before the High Court.
15. In pursuance to the order passed by the High Court, a meeting
was held on 12.4.2012 under the Chairmanship of Secretary to the
Government of Punjab, Department of Public Works (B & R) between the
appellant-company represented by the appellant No.2 and other officers of
the appellant-company and various officials including that of the NHAI.
Another meeting also took place on 14.4.2012 between the officers of the
State of Haryana, the officers of the appellant-company and various
officials including that of the NHAI. An affidavit was, thereafter, filed
by the Director of appellant-company on behalf of the appellant-company to
complete the project obviously anticipating that the respondent/NHAI will
remove the impediments which was coming in the way of completing the
project which was also the contractual obligation of the respondent NHAI.
16. The Division Bench of the High Court however, did not feel
convinced and satisfied, hence passed an order on 19.4.2012 wherein it
observed that the appellant-company is not serious about the undertaking
given to the Court and that it entertained serious doubts with regard to
sincerity of the appellant-company to complete the work within the time
frame undertaken. The High Court, therefore, directed that in the event of
work not completed on schedule which was December 2012 and March 2013
which were the dates furnished by the appellant-company to complete the
project before the Court, it would be liable to pay a sum of Rs. 50 crores
by way of penalty and its Director Shri Patri Ramachandra Rao who was
responsible for running the day-to-day affairs of the company would be
personally liable to the extent of Rs. 5 crores. The High Court further
observed that the Concession Agreement appears to be one sided in its
application i.e. in favour of the Concessionaire and contrary to public
interest ignoring the fact that the terms and conditions of the agreement
were in consonance with the guidelines of the Planning Commission which
had been approved by the Government of India. The High Court thereafter
directed that the matter be listed after two months for further
monitoring.
17. The appellant in the meantime preferred a Special Leave
petition (Civil) No. CC 8974/2012 before this Court on 3.5.2012 which was
later dismissed as subsequent development had taken place in the High
Court itself. Thereafter, the Division Bench of the High Court on 6.7.2012
modified the order dated 19.4.2012 and increased the penalty to be paid by
the appellant-company to Rs. 60 crores and the personal liability of the
Director of the appellant No.1 company to Rs. 7 crores in case the project
was not completed within the time granted by the Court on 19.4.2012.
18. On 3.8.2012 when the matter was further listed before the High
Court, the counsel for the appellant-company informed the Court that the
NHAI had issued a show cause notice to the appellant as to why the
contract be not terminated. The High Court, however, passed an order that
the operation of the show cause notice issued by the NHAI be kept in
abeyance till further orders. In the said order, the High Court also
directed the Ministry of Defence, Government of India to pass an
appropriate order regarding the land needed for widening of NH 1 falling
within the area of Jullundur Cantt. in the State of Punjab and granted 15
days time to the authorities concerned to do the needful. The High Court
vide Order dated 24.8.2012 also directed the Ministry of Defence,
Government of India to hand over the land for widening of the National
Highway forming part of the Concession Agreement against which the
Ministry of Defence approached this Court by filing a Special Leave
Petition bearing No. 26544-26545/2012 which however were dismissed vide
Order dated 5.9.2012 granting further six weeks time to the authorities
concerned to comply with the orders and directions issued by the High
Court. The Ministry of Defence, Government of India, thereafter handed
over the land for the project to the appellant in October 2012 after
dismissal of the special leave petitions before the Supreme Court on
5.9.2012. According to the appellant’s plea the work at the said defence
land could not commence due to utility shifting, boundary wall shifting in
4 kms. of length.
19. In order to explain and highlight the impediments faced by the
appellant-company seeking extension of time to fufill its undertaking, the
appellant/company filed an application bearing C.M. No. 14936/2012 in the
pending writ petition in the High Court of Punjab and Haryana at
Chandigarh which is pending disposal. It was stated therein that the
appellant/concessionaire company was making every effort to complete the
six laning works at the earliest provided there was complete co-operation
by all concerned and work was not hampered for any reason beyond the
control of the concessionaire as the agreement itself envisaged continuous
support and co-operation from the respective State Governments of Punjab
and Haryana and the Concession Agreement as per Article 47.3.
20. The appellant in its application came up with a case that the
highway in question commenced on 11.5.2009 which was the appointed date
and the appellant has been diligently proceeding with the work upon
declaration of the appointed date by the respondent. However, the project
work were adversely affected on account of several impediments, delays,
which according to the appellant are solely attributable to the respondent
NHAI. The appellant company submitted that it has been carrying on its
obligation under the existing Concession Agreement towards construction of
the aforesaid six lane highway earnestly in a professional manner and to
the best of its ability and in spite of the impediments and difficulties,
obstructions and hindrances, the appellant-Concessionaire till date has
completed 71.06 per cent of the work in the project highway as on May
2013. However, due to certain circumstances beyond the control of the
appellant-company, the project was getting delayed. The appellant while
explaining the delay, stated that in spite of extremely adverse site
conditions since commencement of the project, it has managed to complete
substantial portions of the project highway because of its well
preparedness and adequate mobilization of resources. It has been submitted
on behalf of the appellant that the appellant-Concessionaire is fully
geared up for the completion of the project provided the two main
impediments/obstacles namely the stringent conditions of mining in the
States of Punjab and Haryana and the shifting of Toll Plaza which was
hampering the only source of revenue for the Concessionaire were resolved
which were the main reasons for non-completion of the project highway.
Thus, it had been submitted that the flow of work in the project highway
had been hindered/slowed down due to various reasons beyond the control of
the appellant-company which was primarily attributable to the NHAI.
21. Since the High Court by its impugned judgment and order has
permitted the NHAI to take away the project from the appellant due to slow
progress of the National Highway Project and has also imposed heavy fine
on the company for violating its undertaking in completing the project,
the appellant has sought to explain the reasons in detail for the alleged
slowing down of the project. It has been stated that one of the major
constraints that the appellant faced and which vitally affected the normal
flow of work of the project in question was and is the non-availability of
an essential raw material, namely, stone aggregate in the States of Punjab
and Haryana due to the stringent conditions of mining of the said material
in Haryana with effect from 1.3.2010 and in Punjab with effect from
January 2011. However, in course of arguments the plea regarding non-
availability of supply of raw material, namely, stone aggregate was not
seriously pressed as it was submitted that the appellant would try to sort
it out and avail the material from the adjoining states.
22. What has seriously been contested and is the core contentious
issue between the appellant and the respondent-NHAI, which is hindering
the completion work of the project highway is non-relocation of the Toll
Plazas by the NHAI at two locations at KM 110 and KM 211 at Karnal and
Ambala for which the appellant-Concessionaire had approached the
appropriate authority ever since March 2010 which is hampering the only
source of revenue for the appellant-Concessionaire Company. It has been
explained that as per the policy of NHAI (referred to hereinbefore)
approved by the Planning Commission and as per the Concession Agreement
entered into between the parties, tolling is allowed during the
construction of the project from four laning to six laning. Article 3 of
the Concession Agreement which grants the Concessionaire by virtue of
Article 3.1.2. (d) entitled the Concessionaire to demand, collect
appropriate fee from vehicles and persons liable for payment of fee for
using the project highway or any part thereof or refuse entry of any
vehicle if the fee due/toll fee is not paid. Internal accruals from the
tolls during construction are part of the financing package agreed with
the lenders and critical to enable financing for the project as already
recorded hereinbefore.
23. On the question of relocation of toll plaza, it has been
submitted that the Concession Agreement allows the appellant company to
choose the location of Toll Plazas in consultation with the Independent
Engineer and the authority as per the explicit provisions in this regard
agreed between the parties in the Concession Agreement. In this context,
attention of this Court has been invited to clause 2.1 of Schedule ‘C’ and
Article 48 of the Concession Agreement which reads as follows:-
Clause 2.1 of Schedule ‘C’
“Toll Plaza means the structure and barriers erected on the
project Highway for the purpose of regulating the entry and exist of
vehicles in accordance with the provisions of this Agreement and shall
include all land, buildings, equipment and other facilities required
in accordance with or incidental to the provisions of this Agreement;
situated at locations to be decided by the Concessionaire as per
Schedule D in consultation with NHAI and IE”. The tentative locations
of the Toll Plazas are given in Appendix-I.”
Article 48 defines Toll Plaza as
“the structure and barriers erected of the project highway for
the purpose of regulating the entry and exit of vehicles in accordance
with the provisions of this Agreement and shall include all land,
buildings, equipment and other facilities required in accordance with
or incidental to the provisions of this Agreement; provided that such
toll plazas shall not be erected within a distance of 20 km and 10 km
from the notified urban of Karnal, Ambala, Ludhiyana, Jalandhar cities
and Gharonda, Nilokhere, Kurushetra, Shahabad, Rajpura, Sirhind Mandi
Govindgarh, Khanna, Doraha, Sahniwal, Pillore, Goraya, Phagwara towns
respectively as notified on the date of this Agreement and shall be
situated at locations to be decided by the Concessionaire in
consultation with the Independent Engineer.”
24. Placing heavy reliance on the aforesaid clause of the
Concession Agreement, learned Senior Counsel Dr. Abhishek M. Singhvi has
submitted on behalf of the appellant-Concessionaire that it has the
exclusive right in accordance with the provisions of the Concession
Agreement to choose the location of Toll Plazas in consultation with the
Independent Engineer and NHAI. It was, therefore, submitted that the
existing Toll Plazas at KM 146 and KM 212 were proposed to be shifted to
KM 110 and KM 182 with the 3rd Toll Plaza at KM 328 retained at the
existing location in view of the contractual rights of the appellant to
fix the Toll Plaza location and recommendations of Independent Engineer
for relocation of the existing Toll Plaza at KM 146 and KM 212 to KM 110
and KM 211 respectively vide letter dated 9.11.2010 issued by the Ministry
of Road Transport and Highways to the Regional Officer (Punjab and
Haryana), National Highways Authority of India, the appellant started the
construction of Toll Plazas and subsequently the Haryana Government on
4.7.2011 put forward the requirement to shift the Toll Plaza from the
approved location at KM 182 to KM 211 in consultation with the respondent.
It has further been stated that based on the discussion between the
Haryana Government and the respondent on the issue, the respondent sought
consent of the appellant regarding proposal of the Haryana Government for
shifting of Toll Plaza to KM 211 in lieu of the Toll Plaza at KM 182 for
which the in principal approval was granted earlier.
25. In order to honour the proposal of Haryana Government and
keeping in view the national interest and public utility of the project,
the appellant agreed to follow the proposal of Haryana Government to
relocate the Toll Plaza at KM 211 instead of KM 182. The appellant
reserved its rights regarding the shifting of Toll Plaza as per the
provisions of the Concession Agreement while communicating its willingness
to follow the proposal of Haryana Government as suggested by the
respondent. Subsequently, the respondent NHAI gave approval for
relocation of Toll from KM 213 to KM 211.550 to 212.250 on the basis of
recommendation of the Independent Engineer, consent of appellant and the
Government of Haryana vide its letter dated 11.10.2011.
26. The aforesaid order of shifting of Toll Plaza gave rise to
further litigation as a fresh spate of public interest litigations were
filed in November 2011 in the High Court of Punjab and Haryana against the
relocations of Toll Plazas since a writ petition bearing CWP No.
21332/2011 (Gram Panchayat Dangdehri & Ors. vs. Union of India & Ors.) was
filed against the relocation of Toll Plaza KM 110 but the same was
dismissed by the High Court of Punjab and Haryana vide order dated
25.1.2012 wherein it was held as follows:
“Moreover, shifting of Toll Plaza from the present location to
the proposed location seems to be bona fide in view of the fact that
at the present location flyover has to be constructed to ease the
traffic flow within stipulated time as per the agreement. Development
and construction of National Highway should not be stopped for the
simple reason that some of the residents shall face inconvenience or
shall be burdened with toll fee.”
The High Court further held:
“the NHAI and Concessionaire while choosing the site for
installation of Toll tax have to consider viability, availability of
space/location including financial aspect …………….Therefore, action /
decision to shift Toll Plaza within 1.5 KM from Ambala Muncipal Limit
does not seem to be unjustified, arbitrary or in violation of Rules
2008………………… shifting of Toll Plaza is necessitated to facilitate
construction of flyover at the present site.”
27. Another writ petition being CWP No. 23971/2011 (Vishal Nagrath
& Ors. Vs. Union of India & Ors.) had also been filed challenging the
relocation of Toll Plaza at 211 KM – 212 KM but the same was dismissed by
the High Court of Punjab and Haryana vide order dated 1.5.2012 wherein
another Bench of the High Court had also not found any infirmity in the
decision of the respondents (appellant herein and NHAI) to relocate the
Toll Plaza and they were held to be well within their right to evaluate
the location of the Toll Plaza considering the fact that they were being
located with reference to the entire project of 291 KM and the requirement
was to have only three Toll Plazas which had to be so located that they
did not result in a situation of peristalsis movement of the traffic or
even create bottlenecks. The Court went on to hold that such decisions
were to be left to the wisdom of the agencies involved in the execution of
the project and merely because another location may be perceived to be the
better one, cannot be a ground to warrant judicial interference.
28. The PIL petitioners challenged this order of the single Judge
by filing a Letters Patent Appeal bearing LPA No. 170/2012 but this was
also dismissed by the High Court of Punjab and Haryana vide order dated
6.12.2012. While dismissing the appeal, the learned Judges of the
Division Bench had clearly held which is extracted hereinunder:
“The argument that the shifting of the toll plaza is
actuated with arbitrariness or mala fide is also to be rejected.
Learned Single Judge, in this behalf has remarked, and rightly
so, that the shifting of toll plaza to the present location seems to
be bonafide in view of the fact that at the present location fly
over has to be constructed to ease the traffic flow within
stipulated time as per the agreement and development and
construction of National Highway should not be stopped for the simple
reason that some of the residents shall face inconvenience or shall
be burdened with toll fee.
Before we close, we would also like to point out the submission
of learned senior counsel for the National Highway Authority of India
as well as the Concessionaire to the effect that in so far as the
local residents are concerned, they would have to pay the toll at much
lesser rate, which is projected at Rs. 150/- per month per vehicle.
Normally, the choosing of location of Toll Plaza is to be left
to the parties concerned. When in the present case, two States as
well as government undertaking like the National Highway Authority
of India are involved in the decision making process and they have
considered financial aspects, the Courts are ill equipped to go into
the rationale of such decisions. After it is found that the decision
is bonafide; it does not suffer from any oblique motive; and it is not
in violation of any statutory provisions, no further judicial
scrutiny on the merits of such a decision is admissible in law.
We, therefore, do not find any merit in this appeal which is
accordingly dismissed.”
The judgment and order passed in the LPA was thereafter never challenged
either by the PIL petitioner or the respondent NHAI or the respondent-
Harish Kumar Puri and this judgment and order passed in the LPA thus
attained finality.
29. However, despite the orders passed by the High Court of Punjab
and Haryana and approval granted by the respondent NHAI, the appellant has
been prevented from commencing tolling at located Toll Plaza at 211 KM and
110 KM due to which it is contended that the appellant is gravely affected
and is losing substantial fund due to non-commencing of tolling at the
located Toll Plazas that could have been utilized for the construction of
the project. It has been urged that the NHAI has all along been
consistently stating that the Toll Plaza relocation is as per the
Concession Agreement. Based on this assurance, the lenders have continued
disbursement to the project. Thus, the respondent by granting of approval
and re-affirming the appellant Concessionaire right to relocate the
Plazas, has induced the appellant and lenders to invest in construction of
the project but the NHAI has now reversed its decision after 2 ½ years in
spite of giving the in principal approval.
30. It has been submitted by Dr. Singhvi that the above change in
stand of the respondent on the Toll Plaza relocation and disallowing the
appellant-Concessionaire’s rights under the Concession Agreement has a
material adverse affect on the concession as the entire investment on the
project was based on its right to enforce the provision for shifting the
Toll Plazas i.e. fixing the Toll Plaza location to have optimum toll
collection as envisaged in its financial model. As a result, the
lenders have stated that they cannot continue disbursing to the project
without the appellant being allowed to collect toll from the new
locations.
31. It appears that the appellant although had succeeded in the
High Court of Punjab and Haryana on the dispute regarding shifting of Toll
Plaza, the appellant approached the High Court of Delhi in view of Clause
47.1 of the Concession Agreement under Section 9 of the Arbitration and
Conciliation Act, 1996 by filing OMP No. 321/2013 which is pending
disposal before the Delhi High Court wherein the appellant inter alia has
raised several issues before the High Court of Delhi including the issues
of mining as well as the relocation of the Toll Plaza. It was informed
that OMP No. 321/2013 is still pending consideration before the High Court
of Delhi but the fact remains that the issue/dispute regarding shifting of
Toll Plaza had already been set at rest by the High Court of Punjab and
Haryana as already related hereinbefore.
32. However, the High Court in its impugned order manifestly
appears to have ignored or failed to take notice of the orders by which
the High Court vide CWP No. 21332/2011 and CW No. 23971 of 2011 and LPA
No. 170/2012 had permitted vide order dated 6.12.2012 to shift the Toll
Paza and completion of the highway project entrusted to the appellant vide
Concessionaire Agreement which had been approved by the NHAI itself vide
letter dated 30.6.2010.
33. However, the NHAI which had approved the shifting of Toll
Plazas all through suddenly took a U turn after 2 ½ years when a new
Chairman of the NHAI took over the charge on 18.3.2013 and started
questioning the decision of the NHAI for the first time which had been
approved by an independent Engineer Louis Berger permitting shifting of
Toll Plazas earlier by the NHAI stating that it was an error and a
malafide decision of some of the officers of the NHAI oblivious of the
fact that the same had already been upheld by the High Court after contest
when the PIL filed against the shifting of toll plaza had been rejected by
the High Court upto the Division Bench against which no appeal was
preferred either by the NHAI or any other party. In fact, at the initial
stage, the counsel representing the NHAI had submitted that shifting of
Toll Plazas is contrary to the Concession Agreement but the same could not
withstand the express clause in the Concession Agreement which permitted
such shifting with the approval of the NHAI and Independent engineer who
under the agreement was competent to approve or disapprove the shifting.
Confronted with the glaring contradiction, the then counsel representing
the NHAI went on to advance other arguments which were never raised before
the High Court at any point of time earlier.
34. Contesting the plea of the appellant and supporting the
directions issued by the High Court in its impugned order, Ms. Indu
Malhotra, learned senior counsel appearing for the respondent NHAI at a
much later stage submitted that the appellant was required to complete the
project of six laning of National Highway No.1 by November 2011 under the
Concession Agreement. But even though two years have already elapsed since
the period stipulated in the Concession Agreement got over, the progress
of the National Highway project has been negligible since January 2012.
It is alleged that the appellant, in fact, is not carrying out any work
whatsoever since November 2012. It was submitted that several
opportunities had been granted to the appellant to complete the project
within the period stipulated and several extensions were also granted up
to 31.3.2013. Despite this, appellant has failed to complete the project.
It was elaborated that the appellant has practically suspended work on the
National Highway ever since November 2012 even though toll is being
collected from the commuting public since 11.5.2009 which is the appointed
date. The NHAI in support of its bona fide has urged that it is primarily
concerned with completion of the project highway in the interest of safety
and security of the public at large, but the appellant having put the
project on hold by not doing any progress in completing the construction
of the highway, the respondent-NHAI should be allowed to substitute the
Concessionaire as per the provisions of the Concession Agreement. It has
been further urged that the appellant has been flouting the undertaking
given to the Punjab and Haryana High Court and thus the impugned order
passed by the High Court should not be interfered with.
35. On the most contentious issue regarding shifting, relocation of
the Toll Plaza, it has been submitted that there is no provision in the
Concession Agreement for shifting/relocation of the Toll Plazas from the
pre-determined locations set out in the bid documents. Similarly, it has
also been submitted that Clause 48.1 of the Concession Agreement put forth
by the appellant that it has an unfettered right to decide locations of
Toll Plaza at any three places over a stretch of 291 KM of National
Highway No.1 in complete disregard to the locations mentioned in Appendix
I of Schedule ‘C’ to the Concession Agreement is wholly untenable,
misconceived and is contrary to the provisions and the overall scheme of
the Concession Agreement. Such interpretation, if accepted, would not
only alter the basic structure of the Concession Agreement but also would
subvert the bid process. It was further added that changing the bid
parameters subsequent to the award of the project, is not only against the
public policy, but also unjust to the other unsuccessful bidders and would
amount to unjust enrichment of the concessionaire at the cost of local
public which is not liable to pay such user fee as per the original scheme
of the Concession Agreement.
36. It was still further contended on behalf of the respondent-NHAI
that the appellant also made an attempt to read Clause 48.1 of the
Concession Agreement in isolation and in complete disregard to its
schedules and annexures, but the provisions of the contract are to be read
as a whole and not in isolation. Hence if the definitions of Toll Plaza in
Clause 48.1 of the Concession Agreement and Clause 2.1 of Schedule ‘C’ are
to be read together, it broadly covers three aspects. Firstly, the Toll
Plazas shall not be erected at a distance of 20 KMs and 10 KMs from the
notified urban limits of the respective towns as stated therein. Secondly,
the Toll Plazas should be situated at locations to be decided by the
Concessionaire in consultation with NHAI and Independent Engineer and
thirdly the tentative locations of the Toll Plazas which are given in
Appendix I. Elaborating on this aspect, it was urged that the locations
of Toll Plazas were clarified to bidders and the ambiguity, if any, in the
locations of the Toll Plaza as per the word “Tentative” mentioned in
Appendix I of Schedule ‘C’ stood frozen permanently beyond all doubts in
view of the reply given to the pre-bid query. It is an admitted position
that the schedules and annexures to the Concession Agreement forms on
integral part of the Concession Agreement and would be in full force and
effect as expressly set out in the body of the Concession Agreement.
Relying on this provision, it was submitted that the limited discretion of
the appellant to decide the locations in view of the words “Locations to
be decided by the Concessionaire” in Clause 48.1, Clause 2.1 of Schedule
‘C’ and mentioning of word “Tentative” in Appendix I of the Schedule ‘C’
was only to overcome any unforeseen site constraints at the time of actual
construction of Toll Plaza. The discretion available was only to
marginally modify the location of the Toll Plazas with the approval of
Independent Engineer and NHAI. The said discretion cannot be appended so
as to apply to a situation where the appellant is permitted to shift the
location of a Toll Plaza from the pre-determined locations as per Appendix
I of Schedule ‘C’ of the Concession Agreement and further clarified in the
reply to the pre-bid meeting, to another point that too at a distance of
36 KMs so that the appellant can mop up extra revenue. Adding further,
it was contended that in view of Clause 48.1 of the Concession Agreement,
Toll Plaza should not be relocated within 20 KMs and 10 KMs from the
notified urban limits of the respective cities mentioned therein.
Admittedly, the proposed location of Toll Plaza at KM 110 falls within a
distance of 10 KMs of Municipal Limits of Gharonda and within 20 KMs of
Municipal Limits of Karnal as well as of Panipat. In view thereof the
relocation of Toll Plaza at KM 110 as set up by the appellant, if
permitted, would be in complete violation of the definition of ‘Toll
Plaza’ given in Clause 48.1 and the same should not be permitted as that
would amount to changing the terms agreed into between the parties.
37. Extensive arguments were further advanced on the point of
shifting the location of Toll Plaza and it was contended that locations of
Toll Plaza were determined even prior to invitation of the tender and
approved by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs. The locations of
the Toll Plaza were identified as early as at the time of preparation of
the feasibility report of the project and on submission of the feasibility
report to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways took transfer of the
project from the Public Private Partnership Appraisal Committee and
subsequent thereto the project was approved by the Cabinet Committee on
Economic Affairs. It is only then the bids for the project were invited
with the pre-determined locations of Toll Plazas specifically mentioned in
the bid documents. Thus, locations of Toll Plaza were approved by the
Government of India keeping in view the various factors involved including
the total project costs of the project. In view thereof, the locations of
the Toll Plaza were final right from inception and are part of statutory
approval. In view of this, it was submitted that shifting of the Toll
Plaza would completely change the bidding parameter and the total project
costs, on the basis of which bids were invited from various bidders. In
support of this, counsel relied upon a decision of this Court in Monarch
Infrastructure (P) Ltd. Vs. Commissioner, Ulhasnagar Municipal
Corporation, reported in (2000) 5 SCC 287 and submitted that this Court (
Supreme Court ) upheld the view that if a term of the tender is delayed
after the players have entered into arena, it is like change the rules of
the game after it had begun, which would be patently unfair to the other
candidates participating in the tender process.
38. Learned counsel also submitted that the proposal seeking
relocation of Toll Plazas was three times rejected by the Independent
Engineer before its conditional recommendation leading up to the grant of
conditional in principal approval. Giving out the details in this regard,
it was pointed out that a proposal seeking relocation of the existing Toll
Plazas was received by the Independent Engineer from the appellant vide
letter dated 11.3.2010. The proposal of the appellant was rejected by the
Independent Engineer vide its letter dated 18.3.2013, 2.4.2010 and
29.5.2010 as the Independent Engineer found the said proposal to be
contrary to the provisions of the Concession Agreement. The Independent
Engineer was of considered opinion that the relocation of Toll Plaza would
amount to change in the scope of work. The Independent Engineer had
rejected the proposal of the Concessionaire on the basis that these
proposed locations contradicted the provisions of definition of Toll Plaza
and Concession Agreement. Therefore, the Independent Engineer observed
that he could not decide against the provision of Concession Agreement.
39. Learned counsel representing the NHAI although related the past
history in great detail regarding denial of permission to shift the Toll
Plazas, it could finally notice that the Independent Engineer vide his
letter dated 30.6.2010 expressed that it is not in disagreement with the
shifting of Karnal Toll Plaza although it noted that the same would amount
to change in scope in view of the provisions of the Concession Agreement.
But, thereafter the Independent Engineer vide its letter dated 10.07.2010
finally “opined that the shifting of location of the Toll Plaza may be
allowed subject to approval of the competent authority keeping in view the
various clauses of the Concession Agreement and the Gazette Notification
issued by the Government of India.” Counsel for the NHAI however has
still harped upon the previous background wherein the Independent Engineer
had initially expressed some reservations for shifting the Toll Plaza
ignoring that after all opinion and counter opinion on the question of
shifting of Toll Plaza, the Independent Engineer finally gave approval for
shifting of the Toll Plaza vide letter dated 30.6.2010.
40. However, the same could not be made effective as approval of
the Independent Engineer to shift the Toll Plaza gave rise to at least two
public interest litigations referred to hereinbefore challenging the
shifting of Toll Plaza whereby the High Court approved of the single Bench
order permitting shifting of Toll Plaza as the Division Bench had
dismissed the LPA upholding the order of the single Bench allowing
shifting the Toll Plaza in view of the clause in the Concession Agreement
and the opinion of the Independent Engineer and the NHAI. Neither the
NHAI nor the PIL petitioners challenged the judgment and order of the High
Court permitting to shift the Toll Plaza. One would have inferred that as
a matter of judicial propriety ingrained in the principle of constructive
res judicata and above all rule of law, the controversy regarding shifting
of Toll Plaza attained finality in view of final adjudication of the
dispute regarding shifting of Toll Plaza by the High Court of Punjab and
Haryana but it is rather strange and beyond comprehension in view of the
principle of constructive res judicata that the dispute regarding shifting
of Toll Plaza was still allowed to survive as the appellant filed another
writ petition in the High Court of Delhi seeking a writ of mandamus or any
other appropriate direction permitting it to shift the Toll Plaza which
writ petition finally was dismissed and rightly so as in any case the same
could not have been held maintainable. It is equally interesting to note
that in spite of all this exercise undertaken regarding the dispute
pertaining to shifting of Toll Plaza, an application was filed under
Section 9 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1996 for appointment of
an Arbitrator to resolve several disputes including shifting of Toll Plaza
missing out that the dispute relating to shifting of Toll Plaza had
already been dealt with on the judicial side by the High Court of Punjab
and Haryana when two writ petitions and one LPA against shifting was
rejected by the Division Bench of the High Court and yet the NHAI and the
appellant/company has been litigating and contesting the plea regarding
shifting of Toll Plaza.
41. In fact, we have noticed that it is only in the year 2013 i.e.
18.3.2013 when a new incumbent took over the charge as Chairman of the
NHAI that a letter dated 18.3.2013 was issued wherein the proposal of the
appellant for relocation of Toll Plaza was finally rejected stating
therein that the in principle approval dated 9.11.2010 by NHAI was only
conditional in nature and at the most were only recommendatory vide its
letter dated 9.11.2010 ignoring that the Independent Engineer, earlier had
approved of the proposal for shifting the Toll Plaza. In spite of these,
the application is still surviving urging that the matter regarding
shifting of Toll Plaza be decided in the arbitration proceedings and the
NHAI should not be allowed to interfere with the decision of the I.E. and
approved by the NHAI which earlier had endorsed the shifting. In fact,
the NHAI seems to be completely oblivious of the fact that when the
Division Bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court had already settled
the dispute by a speaking judgment and order in CWP No.21332/2011, CWP
No.23971/2011 and LPA No.170/2012 permitting the shifting, what legal
authority was left with the Chairman, NHAI to issue a letter questioning
the shifting. It is rather strange that an authority in contemptuous
disregard to a speaking judgment and order of the High Court had the
audacity to defy the order which had permitted relocation of toll plaza
and it is equally strange that the High Court also vide the impugned
order, appears to have ignored the fact that the controversy regarding
shifting of Toll Plaza although had been set at rest by a judicial verdict
of the High Court, the NHAI still insisted that it cannot permit the
shifting when its I.E. (Independent Engineer) had earlier approved of the
same and accepted by NHAI in view of the specific clause in the agreement
to that effect.
42. In fact, the main contest although is between the contracting
parties/signatories to the Concession Agreement which are the NHAI and the
appellant company and the agreement had been signed and executed
incorporating the terms and conditions in the agreement which had approval
of the Planning Commission and the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the
respondent No.5 Union of India appeared which was given a notice by this
Court merely to facilitate and resolve the controversy between the
contracting parties and admittedly is not a contracting party itself as it
is not a signatory to the Concession Agreement. However, it has come up
in support of the respondent No.6 NHAI which is represented by the
Additional Solicitor General Mr. Paras Kuhad. However, the learned ASG
Mr. Kuhad on behalf of the Union of India advanced arguments limited to
the issue of permissibility of change of location of the Toll Plaza within
the scheme of applicable statutory provisions as also the question as to
the statutory status of the Central Government in relation to contract
for development of national highways. Inter alia it was submitted that
Section 4 read with Section 8 A(1) of the National Highways Act 1956 makes
it clear that national highways vest in the Union and by virtue of Section
8 (A) (1), the power to enter into an agreement for development is also
vested with the Central Government. However, there is no quarrel about
this position and hence is not really required to be gone into or dealt
with in extenso as this position is not disputed by any of the parties nor
we have any doubt that the National Highways Authority is clearly an
authority under the National Highways Act 1956 and it is the power of the
Central Government to vest or entrust its authority in the National
Highway Authority. We therefore entirely agree with the learned ASG to
the extent that it is the Central Government which may from time to time
by notification in the official gazette vest in or entrust to the
authority such national highway or any stretch thereof as may be specified
in such notification. This is clearly the provision also under Section 11
and Section 15 (2) and (3) of the National Highway Authorities Act 1988
and Section 15 (2) of the said Act clearly lays down that subject to the
provisions of sub-section (1), “the form and manner in which any contract
shall be made under this Act shall be such as may be provided by
Regulations.” Sub-section (3) of Section 11 of the Act 1988 further
clearly lays down that no contract which is not in accordance with the
provisions of this Act and the regulations shall be binding on the
authority. Rule 3(2) of the Rules of 1997 framed for collection of toll
fees under the National Highways Authority of India Act 1988 further lays
down that no contract which is not in accordance with the provisions of
this Act and the regulations shall be binding on the authority and the
rates of fees and the period of collection shall be decided and shall be
specified by notification in all official gazette by the Central
Government having regard to the expenses involved in building,
maintenance, management and operation of the whole or part of such
section, interest on the capital invested, reasonable return, the volume
of traffic and period of such agreement.
43. Although, the learned ASG has cited several authorities to
establish the provisions incorporated under the National Highways
Authority Act, we do not find any difficulty in accepting the position
even without the ratio of the authorities relied upon, that in case of
statutory contracts, the terms of the statute prevail over the terms of
the contract. Therefore, determination of the terms and conditions of the
contract will no doubt follow the deliberations, discussions and views
expressed by the Central Government while drafting the contractual
agreement and the National Highways Authority being an agency of the
Central Government in terms of the Act itself which has to incorporate
the terms and conditions which is finally included in the draft agreement
of the NHAI. But once the contract is signed by the contracting parties
obviously the contract having assumed the legal authority of a concluded
contract would govern the terms and conditions of the contract between the
parties who have signed and thereafter would be binding on the contracting
parties. But to contend that even though the contract stands concluded
after the same has been singed by the contracting parties, the opinion of
the Central Government on its administrative side will prevail over the
terms and conditions of the contract in absence of any statutory
violation, would be difficult to accept and it is not even the case in the
instant matter that the terms and conditions in the Concessional Agreement
is contrary to some statute or a central legislation so as to strike down
the clause in the agreement.
44. Therefore, we are of the view that the Concession Agreement
having been signed by the appellant – joint venture company and respondent
No.6 – NHAI, the role of the Union of India to express its view over and
above the terms and conditions of the contract in absence of any statutory
violation will not be allowed to prevail as after execution of the
contract, it can only issue the notification in this regard. We,
therefore, do not wish to go further in regard to the correctness or
otherwise of the contentions urged on behalf of respondent No.6 – Union of
India as its status under the prevailing facts and situation at the most
can be treated as that of a facilitator and nothing more than that. The
position no doubt would have been otherwise if the Concession Agreement
suffered from the vice of some statutory violation. Since it is the
appellant – joint venture company and respondent No.6 – NHAI which alone
are the parties between whom the Concession Agreement has been signed and
the agreement is not even remotely alleged to be in violation of some
statute or central Act, the role or the authority of the U.O.I. to
intervene or contest cannot be allowed as the U.O.I. at the most is a
proforma respondent in this appeal under the prevailing facts and
circumstances.
45. However, the respondent No.1 Harish Kumar Puri who had
initially filed the public interest litigation in the High Court of Punjab
and Haryana merely for ensuring safety and security of the commuters on
the national highway has also entered appearance in the matter and has
advanced submissions through the senior counsel Shri P.S. Patwalia and has
practically supported the stand of the NHAI respondent No.6 as also the
impugned order passed by the High Court which is under challenge in this
appeal. Learned Senior Counsel Mr. Patwalia representing respondent No.1-
PIL petitioner, inter-alia submitted that the excuse of non-shifting of
Toll Plaza by the appellant/company is merely a ploy to justify its acts
of delay in continuing with the project as it has been giving excuses one
after another for the delay and every time comes up with a new lame
excuse. According to his averment, the plea of leakage raised by the
appellant in order to shift the Toll Point/Toll Plaza is merely a ruse for
not completing the project. It has been submitted that no new
access/cross roads joining the highway have been built and the so-called
leakage/diversions as alleged by the appellant are the straight highways
and the major roads are in existence for the last many many years.
Respondent No.1- Mr. Puri has also stated that huge sums are being
transferred from the Esrow accounts which should have been spent on the
project. It had been added that the concessionaire while submitting
financial model to the financial institution showed the project cost as
Rs.4517 crores against the actual project cost of Rs.2747 crores which has
been done to secure higher borrowing which shows that the action of the
appellant is not in public interest. It was also contended that the
dispute regarding shifting of Toll Plaza was not an issue raised before
the High Court. Hence, the appellant should not be permitted to raise
this question before this Court as the shifting is not at all in public
interest since the appellant by doing so merely wants to enrich itself at
the cost of general public. It has further been contended that in the
event of shifting only a very short stretch of road will be covered after
which the commuters will have to cross through the Toll Plaza and the
commuters of Haryana will have to pay a huge toll for the entire Haryana
portion which at present is more than Rs.100/- per vehicle at the Karnala
Toll Plaza. If the Toll Plaza is shifted close to the Panipat area,
people traveling for extremely short distance and turning of the highway
to go to other States like Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh
via Yamuna Nagar will end up paying toll for the entire Haryana portion
which will not be used by them. Similarly, if the Shambhu Barrier is
shifted to the proposed location at Neelokheri, people who will travel for
a negligible distance of Punjab highway and turn off the highway to go to
Banaur and further to Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir will end up
paying Toll for the Punjab portion which they will never use. Thus,
shifting of the Plazas will not be in public interest as toll can only be
charged if the commuters are utilizing the facilities of the highway. It
cannot be made as a compulsory extract fee so that even if a person who is
using a very small portion of the highway should pay for the entire
stretch of the Highway. It was finally submitted that the completion of
the 70 per cent of the highway as claimed by the appellant is also
factually incorrect as the highway consists of few phases for six laning
as dotted with incomplete projects, half built flyovers abundant service
lanes. According to respondent No.1 highway traveling is a nightmare for
the traveling public faced with heavy traffic and ill maintained narrow
diversions. Respondent No.1, therefore, has supported the impugned
directions of the High Court by which the NHAI has been permitted to take
over the project from the appellant and ensure its completion under its
supervision. The respondent No.1 has also given figures of fatal
accidents and injuries on NH No.1 falling in the district of Kurukshetra
by which it sought to establish that the commuters are suffering heaving
losses of lives, properties due to negligence and failure on the part of
the appellant-company despite paying heavy but illegal toll at various
toll barriers on this road from Panipat to Jullundur. Thus, in sum and
substance respondent No.1 has sought to justify the order passed by the
High Court and submitted that the penal consequences ought to be allowed
to follow and should not be interfered with because of negligence and
apathy on the part of the concessionaire/appellant herein.
46. Besides the above, an application for intervention also was
filed by one Chander Prakash Kathuria who also has come up in support of
the NHAI and has supported the direction of the High Court by which the
High Court directed respondent No.6 NHAI to forthwith proceed in the
matter and take possession of the highway and ensure that the work for the
repair of the highway commenced within a week and the work for its
completion commenced within a month thereafter. But, his intervention
application having not been allowed, arguments could not be advanced. In
any view, he also has merely supported the stand of the respondent No.1
and the other contesting respondents NHAI.
47. In any case, the High Court vide its impugned judgment and
order has divested the appellant of its contractual authority to continue
with the project as the Concession Agreement practically has been annulled
and rescinded since the NHAI has been clearly directed to take over the
project from the appellant and ensure that the project is completed which
clearly implies that the construction of the Highway for the rest of the
area which is merely 29% of the project will have to be constructed by
executing another contract in favour of some other construction company as
it was informed to us that the NHAI itself does not execute the
construction and will have to entrust the same to a new player/contractor.
In fact, the erstwhile counsel Mr. Sethi who represented the NHAI earlier
and was later replaced by Ms. Malhotra had submitted before this Court
that a new contractor has already been appointed who is ready to take over
the highway project for construction of the balance area of 29% where the
construction has to be done. Thus, the Contractual Agreement has been
nullified by the High Court although it was observed by the High Court
itself that it is not entering into or touching upon the terms and
conditions of the contract. The High Court has further imposed heavy
penalty/fine of Rs.60 crores and Rs.7 crores respectively on the appellant-
company and its director holding them exclusively responsible for delay
and non-completion of construction of the highway between Panipat and
Jullundur without entering into the cause of delay of the project as also
without considering whether denial of permission by the NHAI to shift the
toll plaza was in violation of the terms of the Agreement and whether the
same is not in contemptuous disregard to the order of the High Court
passed earlier by a co-ordinate Bench of the High Court referred to
earlier.
48. Learned senior counsel Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, therefore,
has made detailed submissions by way of rejoinder to the arguments
advanced by the contesting respondent No.6 NHAI which clearly is the main
contesting respondent. Dr. Singhvi while countering the arguments
advanced by the NHAI and the respondent No.1 Mr. Harish Kumar Puri has
focused on the plea that the High Court while passing the impugned order
has clearly ignored the contractual rights and obligations contained in
the Concession Agreement dated 9.5.2008 but ventured into the arena
without taking into account the contractual rights of the parties,
thereupon nullifying the terms of the Concession Agreement. Learned
counsel elaborated that the controversy adjudicated by the High Court vide
the impugned order has emerged out of a public interest litigation filed
in the year 1998 and the Concession Agreement dated 9.5.2008 was executed
at a much later stage after ten years in 2008 between the appellant
company and the respondent No.6 NHAI granting exclusive right, license and
authority to construct, operate and maintain the highway on a Build,
Operate and Transfer basis (BOT for short) for a period of 15 years. The
rights and obligations between the parties have been determined by
incorporating the terms and conditions which are contained in the
Concession Agreement executed between the appellant and the NHAI but the
High Court has completely ignored the contractual provisions and has
passed directions which has practically nullified the terms of the
contract.
49. Having analyzed the arguments advanced by the counsel for the
contesting parties in the light of the terms and conditions of the
Concession Agreement as also the contents of the impugned judgment and
order of the High Court, it is difficult to overlook that the Hon’ble
Judges of the High Court although have recorded that they did not intend
to traverse the contractual obligations and liabilities of parties and
confine their considerations as far as the orders passed by the High Court
is concerned so as to see whether public interest require that the said
order be extended or vacated, it has indeed done the same when it directed
the NHAI to forthwith take possession of the Highway Project which in
effect has nullified the contract and has gone much further by directing
the NHAI to ensure completion of the project which in effect mean that the
NHAI would have to invite fresh tender for construction of the balance 29%
area of the Highway Project as admittedly NHAI itself cannot undertake the
construction. This clearly is nothing short of cancellation of the
Concession Agreement and it is a misnomer when it observed that it was
not traversing the contractual obligation ignoring its devastating effect
on the contracting party who had completed 71% of the project and had at
least the right to explain whether the delay in concluding the project
could entirely be attributed to the appellant or at least some of it could
be fastened on the NHAI which had gone to the extent of not only backing
out of its earlier opinion but also conveniently shut its eyes that it was
violating the order of the High Court which had earlier upheld the right
of the appellant to shift the toll plaza.
50. Thus, the High Court was not justified in recording that the
delay has been caused merely at the instance of the appellant so as to
pass a blanket order for transferring the execution of the project to NHAI
contrary to the agreement wherein it was permissible for the appellant to
shift the Toll Plazas and the same was also approved by the High Court as
referred to hereinbefore time and again. The High Court further seems to
have missed the track, perhaps in its enthusiasm, that the matter with
which it was seized was limited to the question as to whether the order by
which the show cause notice issued by the NHAI to the appellant
concessionaire-company was ordered to be kept in abeyance was fit to be
vacated or not as the High Court was essentially adjudicating the question
whether the NHAI could at all issue a show cause notice to the appellant-
company to terminate the contract and while the High Court did not enter
into the question whether the said order was fit to be continued or was
fit to be vacated, went into the question whether the appellant-company
was fit to continue with the project which had been handed over to the
appellant by the NHAI by virtue of a valid agreement executed between the
parties primarily on the ground of delay without really entering into the
cause of delay and considering the plea at whose instance the contractual
obligations had been violated.
51. In fact, even at this stage before this Court, the respondent
NHAI has merely contended that the Toll Point/Toll Plaza should not be
allowed to be shifted from the point determined earlier and has been
asserting that the Toll Plaza should not be shifted from 146 KM to 110 KM.
In fact, the respondent No.6 NHAI neither before the High Court nor
before this Court even remotely had contended that the contract should be
nullified although it has contended that shifting of Toll Plaza should not
be permitted as the same according to their averment is contrary to the
terms and conditions of the agreement.
52. There is yet another feature which catches attention but has
been missed by the High Court that when the High Court itself had
prevented the NHAI from proceedings with a show cause notice given to the
appellant –concessionaire company and has gone to the extent of passing an
order for keeping the show cause notice in abeyance and the NHAI itself
has not contended either before the High Court or before this Court for
terminating the contract except that it has been opposing the shifting of
Toll Plaza, whether the High Court on its own could do the same without
examining the contractual obligations. Taking the worst case/situation and
even assuming that the stand of the respondent NHAI were to be accepted,
the appellant at the most could be prevented from shifting the Toll Plaza
from a pre-determined point to another point in which case the appellant
might have to continue with the project by not allowing it to change the
location of the Toll Plaza but the same cannot entail the consequence of
final termination without adjudication at least by an arbitrator for which
there is a clear provision in the Agreement itself. In any event, the
question of termination of the Concession Agreement without adjudication
could not arise at all when the High Court was merely considering the
application seeking vacation of the stay order to the show cause notice
issued by the NHAI. In case, it had rejected the application, the show
cause notice issued by the NHAI to the appellant could have proceeded.
But the High Court seems to have taken a giant leap forward by terminating
the contract for all practical purposes without expressly using the
expression “termination” when it directed the NHAI to take over the
project from the appellant – company and continue with the project and
complete it, nullifying the contract in its entirety.
53. The High Court seems to be completely oblivious of the fact
that it was dealing only with the limited question as to whether the NHAI
was correct in issuing show cause notice to the appellant which the High
Court itself by its own order allowed it to be kept in abeyance for which
the NHAI respondent No.6 had filed an application for vacating this order.
Thus, on the other hand, it kept the order of show cause notice by the
NHAI in abeyance, but when the NHAI came up for vacating the said order,
the High Court straightway directed the NHAI to take over the project
itself from the appellant-company without caring about its impact on the
Agreement which clearly resulted in its cancellation. The High Court
ought to have realised that if it could not traverse the terms of the
Agreement which the High Court itself has observed, it surely could not
have passed an order which unequivocally had the effect of canceling the
Agreement and that too without any adjudication.
54. At this juncture, it is difficult to overlook that the
appellant admittedly has completed 71 per cent of the 291 KM stretch and
now barely 29 per cent is yet to be constructed which is enmeshed in
litigation over the question as to whether the Toll Plaza should be
permitted to be shifted or not. This aspect as was contended by the
respondent No.1, had not been gone into by the High Court clearly missing
that this question had been raised in the PIL before the High Court
wherein the NHAI & Ors. were a party wherein the appellant had been
permitted to shift the toll plaza. It needs to be highlighted even at the
cost of repetition that the dispute regarding shifting of Toll Plaza was
earlier raised before the High Court by two separate writ petitions, the
reference of which have been given hereinbefore vide CWP No.21332/2011 and
CWP No.23971/2011 which were filed by two PIL petitioners but the
petitions were rejected. In one of the writ petitions as noted earlier,
an LPA was also filed in the High Court but the same was dismissed and the
dispute regarding shifting obviously attained finality and could not have
been urged all over again before the High Court. It is however difficult
to appreciate that in spite of the dispute having been settled regarding
shifting of Toll Plaza by the High Court of Punjab and Haryana which
clearly attained finality, the respondent NHAI did not permit the
appellant – company to shift the Toll Plazas, although it had failed to
prefer any appeal against the judgment and order passed by the High Court
in CWP No.21332/2011 and LPA No.170/2012 challenging such permission.
55. It is no doubt true that the respondent-Union of India has come
up to the rescue of the respondent-NHAI when it contended that if terms
and conditions in the contractual agreement is contrary to a statute, the
Union of India would be legally authorized to override the terms and
conditions of the contractual agreement. But as already recorded
hereinbefore, the facts of the instant matter clearly establishes that it
is not even the case of the respondent that the terms and conditions
incorporated in the Concession Agreement was contrary to any statute or
central legislation so as to offer a plank to the contesting respondent
specially NHAI to urge that the provision under the Concession Agreement
had been overriding a statutory provision of any central legislation in
absence of any fact or situation establishing even remotely that the
agreement suffered the vice of violating any central statute/legislation.
56. Thus, apart from the fact that the dispute regarding the
shifting of Toll Plaza had already been adjudicated by the High Court
earlier on two occasions, the details of which have been given
hereinbefore and the Concession Agreement not being in violation of any
legislation of the centre, the dispute regarding shifting of Toll Plaza
obviously could not have been gone into by the High Court all over again
in the PIL. But while nullifying the contract on the ground of delay, the
dispute regarding shifting of Toll Plaza which was clearly the only
contentious issue for not completing the project, could not have been
given a go bye or ignored in any manner by the High Court while taking an
undertaking from the appellant and thereafter cancelling the Concession
Agreement itself when it admittedly did not traverse the terms and
conditions of the Agreement.
57. Beside the above, it is more than well settled that a question
or an issue which has been raised earlier before the High Court,
adjudicated on which a final judgment/order was delivered, cannot be
allowed to be raised for the second time as that would be clearly barred
by the principle of constructive res judicata which is too well known a
principle to be dealt with herein. Suffice it to say that the well-
acknowledged principle and equally well settled legal position seems to
have been ignored and lost sight of not merely by the respondents but by
the appellant company also which filed a writ petition in the High Court
of Delhi raising the issue of shifting of Toll Plaza which finally was
dismissed since the High Court of Punjab and Haryana had already dealt
with it as also by filing an application for referring the dispute to the
Arbitrator under the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 completely
overlooking that at least this part was not permissible to be referred for
arbitration once on the judicial side permission to shift the Toll Plaza
was permitted by the High Court of Punjab and Haryana vide its judgment
and order passed in CWP No.21332/2011 and LPA No.170/2012 which had
settled the issue regarding shifting of Toll Plaza.
58. Besides the aforesaid legal protection which the appellant
enjoyed on account of the judgment and order in its favour given by the
High Court, the terms and conditions in the Concession Agreement itself
regarding shifting of Toll Plaza was approved by the NHAI which permitted
that the Toll Plaza could be shifted provided the Independent Engineer
appointed by the NHAI approved of the same. No doubt, initially the
Independent Engineer (I.E. for short) initially expressed certain
reservations regarding the relocation of the Toll Plazas vide letters
dated 18.3.2010, 2.4.2010 and 29.5.2010 but subsequently the Independent
Engineer, Project Director and CGM NHAI in their recommendations recorded
their view that the location of two Toll Plazas is for different
facilities provided to the public and, therefore, there is no reservation
locating Toll Plaza at KM 110. In fact, it needs to be highlighted that in
terms of Article 48.1 of the Concession Agreement, liberty has been
granted to the appellant to decide the locations of Toll Plaza in
consultation with the I.E. and the same was finally approved by the I.E.
M/s. Louis Berger who conveyed his approval to the change of location as
proposed by the appellant and hence the same cannot be allowed to be re-
agitated despite confirmation of the same by the High Court vide its
judgment and order passed in the writ petitions and the LPA against which
no appeal was preferred either by the NHAI or the PIL petitioner or any
other concerned respondents.
59. Thus, the stand of the NHAI appears to be clearly illegal and
arbitrary and a clear case of an after thought taken in the present
proceedings before this Court as the NHAI ad idem was in complete
agreement with the appellant as regard its right for relocation of Toll
Plazas. The same is recorded and clearly reflected in the correspondence
of various officers of NHAI, minutes of meeting, stand of Independent
Engineer including its stand before the High Court of Punjab and Haryana
and hence the NHAI cannot be permitted to resile from its stand at this
distant point of time as the affidavits were filed as early as 2011 which
finally upheld the location of the Toll Plazas. The correspondence on
record further belies the stand now taken by the NHAI as various officers
of NHAI were of the same view that relocation of Toll Plazas is
permissible under the Agreement and the change in stand happened in the
meeting held for the first time on 21.3.2013 when the present Chairman
took the stand that relocation is impermissible and the decision not to
permit relocation of Toll Plazas was taken as late as on 3.5.2013 which is
not merely highhanded and illegal but contrary to the
judgment and order of the High Court which permitted relocation vide its
reasoned judgment and orders as already referred to hereinbefore which
were never challenged and hence attained finality. Moreover, based on the
in principle approvals granted by NHAI and the stand of NHAI, the lenders
continued to disburse funds and the appellant continued to invest in the
project on the plea that the implementation of the decision to relocate
the Toll Plazas would be done after the decision of the High Court of
Punjab and Haryana upholding the relocation of Toll Plazas. It is
therefore too late in the day for the NHAI to take such specious and
untenable plea with a view to wriggle out of its obligation which cannot
be permitted by this Court.
60. In fact, this Court was informed that the officers of the NHAI
which had approved of the shifting of Toll Plazas are facing departmental
action which has been initiated against Rajeev Kumar Koundal, S.S.
Geharwar and S.I. Patel. But the stand of the NHAI appears to be clearly
an afterthought and an attempt to justify its
irrational/arbitrary/conflicting stand with regard to the rights of the
appellants for deciding the location of Toll Plazas under the Concession
Agreement and the approvals granted by NHAI under the said agreement. The
alleged action initiated by the NHAI, therefore, cannot justify its stand
taken before this Court for the first time nor can it permit to act
contrary to the terms of Concession Agreement ignoring the orders passed
by the High Court on the judicial side in two PIL petitions which were
filed challenging the order for relocation of Toll Plazas.
61. It is rather chaotic as also jurisdictional error that in spite
of several orders passed by three different co-ordinate Benches of the
High Court on the judicial side permitting relocation of the Toll Plazas,
the dispute did not set at rest and the High Court while dealing with the
PIL has not even taken note of the fact that if it was nullifying the
Concession Agreement on the ground of delay of the project without
entering into the rights and obligations of the Concessionaire-appellant
and Respondent No.6 NHAI ignoring that the NHAI could not have been
permitted to get away from the onus of delaying the project when it failed
to honour its contractual obligation.
62. The entire exercise of the High Court while passing the
overzealous directions giving a go by to the rights and obligations under
the Concession Agreement and the orders passed by the High Court while
dealing with limited issue in the PIL as to whether a show cause notice by
the NHAI was justified or not could not have refused to scrutinize the
reasons for the delay on the ground that it was not entering into the
terms and conditions of the contractual agreement and yet went to the
extent of nullifying the agreement oblivious of its consequence that the
impugned direction of the High Court clearly resulted in cancellation of
the agreement itself.
63. It is further difficult to overlook that over 71 per cent of
the Highway Project having been admittedly completed by the appellant-
Concessionaire, it would delay the project without reason and is not
sincere in its attempt to complete it as delaying the project cannot
possibly benefit the appellant-Concessionaire since the income would be
generated by the appellant only when the Toll Plaza is constructed and the
revenue from toll at present is being deposited in the ESCROW account. It
further cannot be overlooked that the NHAI is not funding the project in
any manner as the agreement is in the nature of BOT mode which means
Build, Operate and Trade (‘BOT’ for short) and the appellant cannot
generate profit without undertaking the construction further. It is,
therefore, pertinent to take note of the fact that the project being in
BOT mode, all investment in the project has to be made by the appellant
and no amount is received from NHAI. It may further be noted that the
agreement between the appellant and respondent No. 6 NHAI acknowledges and
confirms the role of lending institutions, mainly nationalized banks as a
major significant holder in project implementation. All the financing
agreement dealing with the administration occurred between lending
institutions and the petitioner as well as the financial model for the
project has been submitted that their revenue and approval prior to the
commencement of the project. The appellant-Concessionaire therefore
states that it is committed to the completion of the project asserting
that its endeavour is to complete the six laning works at the earliest
since it is not a gainer in any manner if the project is at a stand still
and the appellant also would gain only if the project is started.
64. Consequent upon the aforesaid analysis of the background of
the matter and the sequence of events arising out of a Public Interest
Litigation which led to the execution of a Concession Agreement creating
contractual relationship between the appellant Concessionaire-company
and the respondent No. 5 NHAI, it is manifest that the High Court has
issued over zealous directions which has resulted into termination of
the concession agreement itself when it directed the respondent No.5
NHAI to take over the project from the appellant and ensure the balance
construction of the highway project by itself. Although, the High Court
has observed that it was not entering into the arena of the contractual
terms and conditions of the agreement, it has clearly nullified and
terminated the contract itself when it directed the NHAI to take over
the project from the appellant-company overlooking the bonafide of the
appellant-company which has already completed major portion of the
construction which is 71 per cent of the total area of 291 KMs and only
29 per cent is to be constructed further, when a dispute arose between the
appellant-company and the respondent NHAI in regard to shifting of the
Toll Plaza from KM 146 to KM 110 and KM 212 to KM 211 and the NHAI for the
first time in 2013 reneged from its consent to permit shifting contrary to
the terms of the agreement. However, in course of oral argument before
this court, the respondent NHAI had yielded and did not seriously dispute
the shifting from KM 212 to KM 211 and rightly so as the shifting is
hardly at a distance of 1KM from KM 212 to KM 211 at Shambhu Toll Plaza
which is negligible and the shifting has already taken place as discussed
hereinbefore. But, the respondent No.5 NHAI has raised serious objections
in regard to shifting of the Toll Plaza from KMs 146 to KM 110 which
appears to have been done for the first time in the year 2013 when the
new incumbent took over as Chairman of the NHAI ignoring the fact that
the Independent Engineer in terms of the agreement had granted approval to
the same way back on 30.6.2010. In addition, the dispute regarding
shifting of Toll Plaza had already been settled by the High Court when it
permitted the appellant to shift the Toll Plaza to KMs 110
against which NHAI did not file any appeal challenging the order of the
High Court. Thus, in spite of the fact that the dispute regarding shifting
of toll plaza had attained finality by virtue of a series of judicial
verdict, the newly appointed Chairman, NHAI for the first time in 2013
restrained the appellant-company from shifting the Toll Plaza to KMs
110 and this clearly resulted into putting the entire project to a
standstill since the project was to be financed by way of Build, Operate,
Trade mode (BOT mode) and affected financing of the project and the matter
got enmeshed into a series of litigations related hereinbefore. But the
High Court refused to go into this dispute stating that it does not want
to go into the terms and conditions of the contract and directed for
undertaking from the appellant attributing the entire delay to the
appellant-company for non performance and finally terminated the contract
when it directed the respondent NHAI to take back the project from the
appellant. Assuming the High Court did it in public interest to expedite
the construction of the highway, it is more than obvious that this
direction of the High Court cannot possibly and practically expedite the
construction as admittedly the NHAI itself do not undertake any
construction work of the highway which clearly implies that it will have
to issue a fresh tender for construction of the balance area of the
project which is bound to result into greater delay of the project apart
from the fact that the dispute between the appellant-company and the
NHAI would still survive and finally a 3rd party being a new player is
bound to get entangled giving rise to further legal complications in the
whole process.
65. In addition to this it is difficult to overlook that the High
Court was merely seized with the limited issue in the pending PIL as to
whether the Show Cause Notice issued by the NHAI to the appellant-
company which was ordered to be kept in abeyance by order of the High
Court itself, was fit to be vacated on an application filed by the
respondent NHAI, but while doing so the High Court took a leap much way
ahead by cancelling the agreement itself for non performance ignoring the
main issue as to whether the Show Cause Notice issued by the NHAI was
fit to be sustained or the order keeping it in abeyance was fit to be
vacated and straightway concluded that the appellant-company had delayed
the project completely overlooking that the contractual violation had
been done by the NHAI when it declined to permit shifting of the Toll
Plaza from KMs 146 to KM 110 in spite of the reasoned orders of the High
Court to that effect against which no appeal was filed either by the NHAI
or the PIL petitioner or any other concerned party. It is no doubt true
that in a public interest litigation the court at times may
forego/overlook the technicalities coming in the way of issuance of any
direction which may conflict or jeopardise the public interest. But the
same cannot be allowed to reach to the extent or affect the contractual
agreement itself which reduces a valid and a legal document into a
worthless piece of paper or a waste paper which clearly means that the
relationship between the parties although were to be governed and
supported by a valid legal document, the same would finally turn out to
be a document having no legal significance in spite of its validity in
the eye of law. If this were to be permitted, it is bound to lead to a
chaotic situation affecting the very fabric of the rule of law which
cannot be allowed to prevail over a valid and legally supported document
conferring certain rights on the person or entity possessing it.
66. As a consequence and fall out of the above position, we deem it
just and appropriate to set aside the impugned directions of the High
Court, and permit the appellant to restore the construction of the
balance stretch/area of the highway project by further directing the NHAI
to permit the appellant to shift the Toll Plaza from KM 146 to any point
between KMs 110 and KMs 117 with concurrence of the NHAI. The exact
point of construction of Toll Plaza between KMs 110 to KMs 117 shall thus
be decided by the NHAI holding mutual consultation with the
appellant/concessionaire in the light of the approval already granted by
the Independent Engineer in terms of the Agreement which also had been
approved by the High Court earlier. However, we take note of the fact
that the High Court although by its order referred to hereinbefore
permitted shifting of the Toll Plaza in dispute to point KM 110, we have
noticed that the distance between KMs 96 where Toll Plaza of L & T is
existing and the proposed toll plaza at KMs 110 would be at a distance of
only 14 KMs which may not be in the interest of the commuting public and,
therefore, we direct that the shifting although may not be permitted at
KMs 110, it may be allowed to be shifted at any point between KMs 110
and KMs 117 in consultation and with concurrence of the NHAI. In fact, we
could have directed the appellant to shift the Toll Plaza even beyond
117, KMs but we have been informed that beyond KM 117 the area is thickly
populated and would not be practically possible to set up the Toll
Plaza beyond KMs 117.
67. Therefore, and in order to facilitate and expedite completion
of the Highway Project, we direct the respondent NHAI to permit shifting
of Toll Plaza from 146 to anywhere between KMs 110 and KMs 117
expeditiously but not later than a period of two months from the date of
this order during which period the required legal formality of notifying
the area for construction of the Toll Plaza shall also be complied with by
the NHAI by getting it notified through the Competent Authority and making
the land available free from all encumbrance. The appellant thereafter
shall forthwith restart the construction including setting up of Toll
Plaza at the agreed point and continue with construction of the remaining
area of the Highway Project and shall complete the entire construction of
the Highway on or before 31st of March 2015 failing which the
appellant/concessionaire company shall be liable for penal consequences to
be determined by the NHAI in terms of the Concession Agreement.
68. The appellant/concessionaire company is further directed to
report/update the progress/development of the construction to the NHAI
referred to in the Concession Agreement after every three months from the
date of compliance of the required statutory notification for shifting
of Toll Plaza at the instance of the NHAI and the Ministry of Road
Transport and Highways/any other competent authority. However, we
make it explicitly clear that no dispute shall be allowed to be raised
further by any of the parties before any court which may impede or slow
down the progress of completion of the Highway Project as this measure
most certainly would not be in the interest of the Highway Project and
consequently not in public interest in any manner. However, the main
contesting parties i.e. the appellant-Concessionaire Company and the NHAI
would be at liberty to seek such other or further direction from this
Court in case there is bona fide need to resort to such an eventuality
in regard to the Highway Project referred to in the Agreement. The
appeal accordingly is allowed but in the circumstances leave the
parties to bear the costs on their own.
…………………………….J.
(Gyan Sudha Misra)
…………………………….J.
(Pinaki Chandra Ghose )
New Delhi,
April 17, 2014
———————–
75

 

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