The Kerala High Court has ruled that a welfare state is responsible to pay citizens engaged on a contract basis by it, in line with the terms under the contract, without creating a situation where the citizens have to demand such payments.
The court made these observations while hearing a plea in which a contractor was refused payment by the state government on the ground that the time period to make the payment fixed under the Limitation Act had expired.
"Above all, in a welfare state, the state has the duty and obligation to protect the interests of its citizens, rather than finding ways and means to defeat their interests and means of livelihood," read the judgment.
The petition was filed by the two sons of a registered Public Works Department (PWD) contractor, as he had passed away.
The Irrigation Department had awarded some construction work to PWD contractor K. Muraleedharan, but he was unable to execute the work and, therefore, entered into a power of attorney assigning the work in the name of the petitioners' father.
Accordingly with the permission of the Superintending Engineer, an agreement was executed by the petitioners' father.
Trouble began when Muraleedharan was imposed liability by the Irrigation Department in some other contract, and the government attempted to recover this from the bill amount of the petitioners' father.
Subsequently, the petitioners' father approached the munsif's court, seeking a permanent prohibitory injunction restraining the government from withholding or adjusting any amount due to the petitioners' father towards the liability of Muraleedharan.
Though the munsif court dismissed the case, the additional district court issued a decree in favour of the petitioners' father on their appeal.
However, the government only paid a portion of what was claimed by the petitioners' father in the bills submitted by him and said that the rest needed to be adjusted against Muraleedharan's dues.
Meanwhile, the government moved an appeal before the High Court and the same was later dismissed, effectively upholding the lowe court's order of prohibitory injunction restraining the government from realising Muraleedharan's liabilities from the amount of the bill submitted by the petitioners' father.
Thereafter, the father of the petitioners died, and consequently, the amount became due to them being successors in interest.
The petitioners then approached the High Court with the present plea seeking a direction to the Irrigation Department to disburse an amount of Rs 7,50,758 to them in connection with the contract work carried out by their father.
They also sought an interest of 12 per cent per annum on the amount.
The Irrigation Department, in their counter-affidavit, admitted the facts and figures, but submitted that the claim raised by the petitioner was barred by the law of limitation.
The High Court, however, said that the government's action in adjusting the dues of Muraleedharan for some other work from the money due to the petitioners' father who had executed the contract work to the government's satisfaction, was illegal and arbitrary.
It directed the Irrigation Department to pay the balance amount due to the petitioners within six weeks failing which they will have to pay the same with interest at nine per cent per annum.
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