The High Court of Delhi ruled Thursday that a promise made by the Chief Minister of State during a press conference is an enforceable promise that has to be implemented by the government.
On March 25, 2020, India announced a nationwide lockdown because of COVID-19. Consequently, Delhi witnessed a mass exodus of daily-wage workers leaving for their hometowns on foot due to lack of money and public transportation. As a result, central and state governments announced various schemes to assist daily-wage workers.
In this context, the Delhi Chief Minister (CM) urged landlords not to collect rent from tenants in a press conference on March 29, 2020. More importantly, the CM promised the landlords that if any tenant failed to pay rent due to poverty, the government would pay the landlord on the tenant’s behalf.
When the Delhi government failed to implement the aforesaid promise, five daily-wage workers and a landlord filed a petition before the Delhi High Court. The court observed that the doctrines of promissory estoppel and legitimate expectation reflect the legal recognition being accorded to people’s trust in promises made by the government. It ruled that the citizens have a reasonable expectation that a promise made by a constitutional functionary such as a CM, especially during a pandemic, would be implemented. Further, the CM is expected to have knowledge of the consequences of such promises and to exercise his authority to carry them out.
Moreover, the court held that since the present case involves the fundamental right to shelter, the principle of legitimate expectation assumes greater importance. The doctrine of estoppel is an equitable doctrine, which means it creates a legal right. It requires that the the government is held liable if it fails to act on a commitment made by the CM even if it doesn’t result in a formal policy. Thus, a promise made by the CM in a press conference amounts to an enforceable promise that must be implemented. Further, “good governance requires that promises made to citizens, by those who govern, are not broken, without valid and justifiable reasons.”
The court directed the Delhi government to make a decision on the implementation of its promise within six weeks, taking into account the interests of the people who were supposed to benefit from the promise.