1. This writ petition is filed by the petitioner seeking to declare that the action of the 2nd respondent rejecting the candidature of the petitioner as per Ext.P5 is arbitrary, illegal, unconstitutional and vitiating the regulations and the procedural formalities, and for a direction to respondents 1 and 2 to consider the alternate site for show room as per Ext.P7, which is suitable for a show room within the notified location, and for other allied and related reliefs. Brief material facts for the disposal of the writ petition are as follows:
2. In accordance with the advertisement issued by the 1st respondent Corporation in a daily newspaper dated 03.09.2017, inviting applications for LPG Distributorship, petitioner applied for "Gramin Vitrak" in the category/subcategory Scheduled Caste. Application was invited for a Distributorship in Bhoothakkulam Panchayat of Ithikkara Block, Kollam District. According to the petitioner, petitioner has provided all necessary details as is requisited in the notification. Among other conditions, the applicants have to provide details of the plot(s) of land for the construction of LPG Godown owned, or registered lease for minimum 15 years in the name of the a
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pplicant/member of the family unit commencing on any date from the date of advertisement up to the date of submission of application as specified in the advertisement or in the corrigendum (if any) on meeting the norms as specified.
3. According to the petitioner, petitioner is qualified by virtue of the publication and Ext.P1 brochure to apply in the said category. Column 5 in Ext.P2 relates to the details of land/showroom that can be made available for godown/showroom. Petitioner mentioned the required dimension of property in Survey No.217/3 of Parippally Village and a declaration to that effect is also given in column 6 of the application. Twenty-nine applicants were found eligible for draw of selection for LPG Distributorship. As per Ext.P1, further selection shall be by drawing lots when there are more than one eligible applicant for selection of LPG Distributor for an advertised location. Petitioner was selected in the lot conducted on 06.12.2017 and the same was communicated to the petitioner as per Ext.P4 letter dated 07.12.2017.
4. However, on 01.02.2018, 2nd respondent issued a letter informing that, upon Field verification of information submitted in the application, certain variance are noted and further that, no alternate land was suggested. Hence the candidature was rejected as per Ext.P5. According to the petitioner, Ext.P5 is issued in violation of the mandatory requirement of giving opportunity for providing alternate/new land for construction of godown or showroom. But, no such opportunity was given even though petitioner was ready with an alternate showroom at Bhoothakkulam Panchayat Ward VIII. The property leased out for the godown is as per the requirement. But, without considering the documents relating to the alternate showroom in Bhoothakkulam Panchayat, the officer who conducted Field verification filed a false and frivolous report on the next day of inspection that no alternate property for showroom was suggested by the petitioner. Consequently, petitioner's candidature was rejected as per Ext.P5. These are the background facts projected by the petitioner to secure the reliefs specified above.
5. A counter affidavit is filed for and on behalf of the respondents. Among other contentions, it is stated that, petitioner has failed to make the remaining applicants found eligible for the draw of selection of LPG distributorship parties to the present proceedings, and therefore, the rights of the said eligible candidates are squarely affected by the outcome of the present writ petition. Therefore, the writ petition is to be dismissed on the sole ground of non-joinder of necessary parties.
6. It is also submitted that, the procedure for selection of such distributors is contained in Ext.P1 brochure. As per Ext.P1, the plot of land for LPG godown under "Gramin Vitrak", the applicant should "own" a plot of land of minimum dimension of 24 x 29 mtrs. in and within 15 Kms. of the advertised location as on the last date of submission of application, as specified either in the advertisement or corrigendum (if any) . Further, the applicant should 'own' a suitable shop for showroom or a plot of land for construction of showroom of minimum size 3 x 4.5 Mtrs. as on the last date for submission of application of the advertised location. Clause 1(w) of Ext.P1 defines 'ownership' or 'own' as follows:
"Ownership" or "Own" for godown / showroom for Sheheri Vitrak, Rurban Vitrak, Gramin Vitrak and Durgam Kshetriya Vitrak Type of Distributorship means having:
(a) Ownership title of the property OR
(b) Registered lease deed having minimum 15 years of valid lease period commencing on any day from the date of advertisement upto the last date of submission of application as specified either in the advertisement or corrigendum (if any) . Additionally, applicants having registered lease deed commencing on any date prior to the date of advertisement will also be considered provided the lease is valid for a period of minimum period of 15 years from the date of advertisement."
7. Clause 8(A) of Ext.P1 provides the circumstances in which alternate land may be offered by a selected candidate, which states that: "In case if the offered land for Godown and/or offered land for showroom by the selected candidate which is shown in the application is found not meeting the eligibility conditions/requirements as stipulated in the advertisement/brochure/application at the verification (FVC) stage, then the selected candidate can offer an alternate land which is owned by the applicant/member of the 'Family Unit' as on the last date for submission of application as specified either in the advertisement or corrigendum if any.
8. It is submitted that, in the present case, the last date for submission of application was 06.11.2017. Further, starting from the year 2017, distributorship selection process and guidelines have undergone considerable changes with the stages from application form filling/payment, scrutiny and draw being conducted online, which has been decided at the Ministry level. As per Ext.P1, it is clear that, the only documents which have to be uploaded at the time of submission of application are signature and photograph, which is clear from Ext.P2 application form as well. Therefore, only on the basis of application, the scrutiny of applications is being done. Since the petitioner had applied purporting to have land for both showroom as well as godown as per the requirements of Ext.P1 in his application form, during online scrutiny, he was found eligible for the draw of lots. It is also submitted that, until the Field Verification of Credentials (FVC) , all the remaining procedures are conducted online with minimal manual intervention. The details provided in the application form are deemed to be true until the FVC, in view of the declaration provided by the applicants in their application forms.
9. It is further stated that, even though petitioner was declared as the successful candidate, and requested to deposit the necessary amount as well as to submit the documents required for carrying out the FVC, it was found that the land offered by the petitioner for the showroom is located 8 kms. away from the boundary of the advertised location Bhoothakulam. The said showroom fell under Paripally Village, Kalluvathukal Panchayat and not Bhoothakulam. Additionally, the petitioner has confirmed that no other land is shown by him for showroom at the time of FVC, evident from Ext.P6. It was accordingly, the candidature of the petitioner was cancelled as per Ext.P5. Therefore, according to the respondents, it is clear that petitioner has not satisfied the conditions that are required for being qualified to be selected as a distributor for LPG.
10. Petitioner has also produced other documents along with Interlocutory Applications to canvass the proposition that in respect of the application under SC/ST category, the respondents are vested with sufficient powers to provide time up to six months, to provide alternate lands. During the course of arguments also, notifications dated 08.07.2016 and 13.02.2017 were produced for consideration.
11. I have heard learned counsel for the petitioner and the learned Standing Counsel appearing for the respondents and perused the documents on record and the pleadings put forth by the respective parties.
12. The fact discussion made above would make it clear that, even going by the pleadings put forth by the petitioner, petitioner has not complied with the conditions contained under Ext.P1 brochure to have a showroom space within Bhoothakulam area. It is an admitted fact that, the location for godown of the petitioner is situated in a different Panchayat. Therefore, it is evident that, the condition contained with respect to the godown facility is not complied with by the petitioner. However, the case put forth by the petitioner is that, in accordance with the terms of Ext.P1 brochure, if the petitioner is able to provide an alternate site, then the respondents are bound to consider the same. However, from Ext.P6 document produced by the petitioner with respect to the details of the land offered for LPG godown or LPG showroom during the Field Verification, it is evident that petitioner has unequivocally stated that petitioner has no other land for the showroom. The said signed statement made by the petitioner as per Ext.P6 is not under dispute. However, petitioner is relying heavily upon Ext.P8 notification issued by the Government of India, Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas dated 09.03.2016 to contend that the respondents are duty bound to provide adequate time to the petitioner to provide alternate site.
13. But, on a reading of Ext.P8, it is evident that, the said notification is relating to relaxation made with respect to offer of land to applicants belonging to SC/ST category in respect of Petroleum products. However, it is evident that, the stipulations contained thereunder are only applicable in case of advertisements released in 2014-15 under the new Dealer Selection Guidelines for Retail Outlet dealerships. Therefore, in my considered opinion, the said notification will not apply to the petitioner. So also, Ext.P9 is a notification issued in respect of providing additional time to SC/ST category. However, the same also seems to be a specific right with respect to a particular notification, by which such applicants who have applied during the said tenure to provide an alternate land within 6 months from the date of issuance of the said notification. I have also verified the two notifications produced by learned counsel for the petitioner during the course of arguments, wherein, it is found that the said notifications are relating to Petroleum products described as petrol and diesel. So also, the notification dated 13.02.2017 is relating to retail outlets for Petroleum and Natural Gas. Therefore, in my considered opinion, the notifications produced by the petitioner will not help the petitioner in any manner.
14. So also, petitioner participated in the tender notification knowing fully well, the stipulations contained in Ext.P1 brochure and the formalities that are to be undertaken by him. It is evident from the pleading put forth by the petitioner and the documents produced, that the petitioner did not comply with the stipulations contained in Ext.P1 brochure in respect of the showroom space.
15. Taking into account the respective submissions made across the Bar in terms of the pleadings put forth, and the documents produced by the respective parties, I am satisfied that the petitioner has not made out any case justifying interference of this Court under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, there being no arbitrariness or illegality.
Resultantly, writ petition fails, accordingly it is dismissed.