Promise sun and moon? It could be legally binding
In the case of hiring migrant workers, the High Court rules that the Delhi CM “pledge” will be translated into a legally enforceable obligation at the press conference
The Delhi Supreme Court said Prime Minister Arvind Kejriwal should decide on policies to deliver on the promise he made to migrant workers in the capital at the press conference last year.
We say law is a social contract. The election of a leader is also a contract between the voters and their representatives. The people accept the political leader’s offer to serve them and keep his promises. Their acceptance is indicated by exercising their voting decision in favor of the participant. Although not formal in the legal sense, it is a contract.
The elected person has a moral obligation to fulfill the promises they make in order to receive votes. The question is whether it is also a legal obligation. A decent decision by the Delhi High Court seems like a step in that direction.
Delhi High Court Judge Pratibha M. Singh relied on established doctrines of legitimate trust and promissory note to provide the “rental amount” for migrant workers they fail to pay due to the pandemic, in violation of a political promise made by Delhi Prime Minister Arvind Kejriwal had to.
Judge Singh began her verdict with a profound statement: “The adage ‘Promises are meant to be broken’ is well known in the social context. However, the law has refined the doctrines of legitimate confidence and legal rescission to ensure that promises made by the government, its officials and other agencies are not broken and, under certain conditions, are actually legally enforceable.
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The protection of legitimate expectations is a reason for review under administrative law to protect a procedural or material interest if an authority withdraws from a promise given to the people. It is based on the principles of natural justice and fairness and aims to prevent the authorities from abusing power.
Promissory note loan
Another important doctrine is the promissory note. This makes a promise, even if it was made without formal consideration, legally enforceable if this promise was used to the later detriment of the promising party. The challenge is to prevent the promotor from arguing that an underlying promise should not be legally upheld or enforced.
The dinner stubble is an established legal principle that prevents people and companies from breaking their word or promise. A further developed principle of the Promissory Esstoppels helps the injured party to reimburse damages for promises made which, if violated, have led to economic damage.
Any promise of a political statement must not lead to a “legitimate expectation” or become a “promising contestation”. The following essential conditions for the legitimate expectation theory:
- The presentation / promise / declaration must be clear and unambiguous and must not have any relevant qualifications.
- The expectation should be evoked by the behavior of the authority.
- The representation must have been given by a person who has actual or apparent authority, and
- The representation must be applicable to the injured party.
Right from press release
After examining the promise-like statement by the Delhi Prime Minister at a press conference on March 29, 2020, the Delhi Supreme Court concluded that such public assurances, even in the absence of a formal guideline, gave petitioners a “valuable and legal right” the basis of the Promissory Esstoppel doctrine.
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On July 22nd this year, the court ordered Kejriwal to decide on a policy to fulfill the promise he made to migrant workers at last year’s press conference. The workers had appealed to the court to enforce the Delhi government’s promise to pay their rent to the landlords. The CM had also asked all landlords to postpone the collection of the rent.
Judge Singh said: “… the promise / assurance / representation of the CM clearly amounts to an enforceable promise that the government should consider implementation. Good governance requires that promises made by rulers to citizens are not broken without valid and justified reasons. “
The judge emphasized that the announcements of a press conference should not be overlooked against the backdrop of the pandemic, lockdown and the migrant crisis. “The CM’s pledge needs to be considered by the government and a decision must be made whether or not to implement it,” she said.
Political statement or political promise?
The sad thing about the whole case is that government attorney Rahul Mehra argued that the government didn’t have to go ahead and implement it because it wasn’t a promise. The government claimed that the doctrine of legitimate expectations can only be based on an executive decision or a government communication or policy and not on a “political statement”.
The petitioner’s attorney, Gaurav Jain, pointed out that the right to housing falls under the category of fundamental rights and that the Delhi government is bound by its promises made. He pointed out that if this promise is not kept, the trust placed in the CM by citizens will be completely broken.
In a very balanced arrangement, the Delhi Supreme Court indicated that leaders are expected to give adequate and responsible assurances to people in times of crisis. She said: “On behalf of the citizens there is of course a reasonable expectation that an assurance or promise from a senior constitutional official, no less than the CM himself, will come into effect. It cannot reasonably be said that no tenant or landlord would have believed the CM. “
It is not the lack of a positive decision, but the lack of decision-making that violates state law, she added. It was concluded: “After the CM had given a solemn assurance, the GNCTD (Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi) was obliged to take a position on whether or not the said promise should be enforced and if so, for what reasons or for what reasons … The statements of those in power are trusted by the public, which is based on faith and believes in it. “
No talk in politics
Ad buffers are advertising or promotional materials that make exaggerated or boastful statements about a product or service that are subjective (or a matter of opinion) rather than objective (something that can be measured) and that no reasonable person would assume is literally true.
Puffery does not establish any express warranty or guarantee for the consumer. In the retail trade, vague advertising is tolerated to a certain extent, although a certain degree of exaggeration is permitted. The court said that “puffing,” which may be allowed in commercial advertising, should not be discernible or allowable in corporate governance.
However, the court did not order the Delhi government to pay the rent immediately, but instead gave six weeks to consider whether what it had promised could be translated into a policy that resulted in payment of the rent as promised could lead.
Away from the Delhi government
The government of Delhi will decide on its implementation within a period of six weeks, taking into account the declaration of the CM of March 29, 2020 to the landlords and tenants, it said.
The said decision is made taking into account the greater interest of the individuals to whom the benefits in said statement are to be extended as well as any overriding public interest concerns, she added. After this decision, the government of Delhi will formulate a clear policy in this regard.
Once a decision has been made, in the event of the announcement of a plan or policy, the petitioner’s case will be dealt with in accordance with the procedure prescribed therein, if any, under the said regulation / policy. Appeals against a decision made remain open, the court said.
This ruling sends a strong signal to the political parties not to make empty announcements and to take the promises made to the people seriously. With this judgment and the legal points formulated therein, it is difficult for political rulers to ignore their political statements, which are in the form of promises.
The author is Dean and Professor, School of Law, Mahindra University, Hyderabad, and a former Central Information Commissioner.