6 Mar 2011

Payment of bills for water consumption cannot be denied: High Court

Holding that while "availability of the water is a primary requirement in any human habitation" and that "paucity of the water cannot be countenanced" the Delhi High Court in a recent decision [Rajinder Nagar Welfare Association v. Delhi Water Board] held that in circumstances "consumption of more water by the citizens on less payment" could be tolerated. Deciding in the context of challenge to water-bills in a public interest litigation, the High Court observed that it "is the duty of the collective to see that the economic growth of a country rises when the members of the society pay their charges and taxes and any kind of evasion or any subterfuge or any sort of refusal is not acceptable". 

Thus issuing directions to the local body to install correct water bill meters, the High Court inter alia observed as under;
1. Public Interest Litigation, in its denotative contour as well as connotative sweep eschews characteristics of an adversarial litigation and encompasses affirmative facets of public good, endeavours to ameliorate the conditions of the marginalized sections of the society and bestows beneficence through interpretative dynamics on those who deserve. Quite apart from the above, it throws laser beam on issues relating to good governance and attempts to guide the citizens' behaviour in certain fields on the substructure of good governance, economic purity, sustenance of environment and such other spectrums. It, in conceptual essentiality, has an obligation to avoid 'personal interest', 'publicity interest' and 'paise interest' like the plague. Sometimes necessity arises where the court comes across a controversy where it is compelled to remind the citizens their constitutional duty and the obligation because everyone has to bear in mind the age old saying „Right, to its last particle, is duty‟. The present prefatory note has become necessary as, we are disposed to think, citizens who are consumers cannot make their sense of duty an imaginary one totally ostracizing the idea that „grandest of all laws is the law of progressive development‟ and the same is not possible without responsible positive participation of the citizens of a civilized nation. The issue before us is whether consumers of water, supplied by the Delhi Jal Board can only complain that they have not been supplied measuring meters on the basis of which they have to pay the charges or they also have the duty to have the meters and pay for their actual accurate consumption, for “accuracy is the twin brother of honesty, inaccuracy, of dishonesty”.
2. In the present public litigation, the petitioner, namely, Rajinder Nagar Welfare Association(Regd.) through its General Secretary has made colossal grievance that the Delhi Jal Board (for short, „the Board‟) has not performed its statutory duty of installing water meters and taken a decision on 29.10.2009 and hence, a writ of certiorari should be issued for quashment of the said decision and further a writ of mandamus be issued commanding the Board to install the water meter of ISI/ISO standard to the respective water consumers forthwith within the National Capital Territory of Delhi and to stock water and avoid any shortage of water meters in future and further not to take any coercive action against the consumers.
5. The question that emanates for consideration is whether the Board is under obligation to install water meter or the citizens. That apart a larger question that emanates for consideration is whether the citizens because of the non-installation of water meters while knowing fully well about the more consumption should consume the same and not pay the charges as per actual consumption. At this juncture, we think it appropriate to refer to certain citations pertaining to the fundamental concept of public interest litigation and the role of the Court.
11. The enunciation of law in the aforesaid decisions clearly demonstrates that the Court has a dynamic role and it has the power to mould the relief regard being had that litigation is not adversial in nature. It is not a litigation in the traditional sense of the term and the reliefs can be shaped keeping in view the future. It should have a liberal reception at the judicial doorstep. The social and economic justice has to become a meaningful reality and cannot be in the realm of illusion. The Court has a sacrosanct duty to protect the rights of the weaker and marginalised sections. Sometimes it is regarded as a duty under Article 226 of the Court to see that the probity and morality in the governance of the State is maintained. Any kind of personal vengeance is not to be entertained and is to be thrown at the threshold. The terms "government" and "governance' are inter-twined. In Black's Law Dictionary, sixth edition, the term "government" has been defined. We may profitably reproduce the part which is relevant for the present purpose:
“The system of polity in a state; that form of fundamental rules and principles by which a nation of state is governed, or by which individual members of a body politic are to regulate their social actions. A constitution, either written or unwritten, by which the rights and duties of citizens and public officers are prescribed and defined, as a monarchical government, a republican government, etc. The sovereign or supreme power in a state or nation. The machinery by which the sovereign power in a state expresses its will and exercises its functions; or the framework of political institutions, departments, and offices, by means of which the executive, judicial, legislative, and administrative business of the state is carried on.” 
12. A good governance also requires peoples' participation, for a citizen cannot claim his right in a routine manner without thinking about his duty. One cannot be oblivious of the fact that democratic governance in its fundamental expanse has to include performance of democratic duties by a citizen. Governance neither etymologically nor in its completest canvas would only include government. A good democratic set up can only be built with excellence where the citizens realise their duty and act giving respect to the spirit of law. It needs no special emphasis to state that the citizens have the constitutional as well as statutory obligations.
20. Availability of the water is a primary requirement in any human habitation. The need of the same cannot be marginalized. Paucity of the water cannot be countenanced. Similarly consumption of more water by the citizens on less payment is also deplorable. It is the duty of the collective to see that the economic growth of a country rises when the members of the society pay their charges and taxes and any kind of evasion or any subterfuge or any sort of refusal is not acceptable. In this context, we may refer with profit to Article 51. The Article 51A(j) deals with fundamentals which reads as follows:
“(j) to strive towards excellence in all spheres of individual and collective activity so that the nation constantly rises to higher levels of endeavour and achievement.”
21. The term "achievement" has to be understood in a broader and larger context including achievement in the field of understanding of the morality of economic and political growth of a nation. The collective cannot only think of its fundamental rights totally brushing aside the conception of duty. A nation constantly rises to a higher level if the citizens act with responsibility as per the existing law. If the citizens take recourse to same maladroit efforts to have something without payment, it is the betrayal of the national value. On certain occasions, it has been noticed that when the State has given one line connection or one "batti" connection, the consumers have abused the same and put the institution to loss. Every institution has a collective character and the Board is no exception. Thus, the consumers are expected to cooperate with the Board and put the meters so that the appropriate charges are collected. 
22. In view of the aforesaid, we proceed to issue the following directions: 
(a) The Board shall first endeavour to install the meters and replace the defective meters. 
(b) In case the Board is not in a position to do so, it shall notify the brands and standards available in such shops so that citizens can buy the meter.
(c) The Board shall publish the same widely in the newspapers so that the consumers are made aware of the changed scenario. 
(d) If any consumer purchases meter from the notified shop, the Board shall not compel him to purchase the meter from the Board and the meter shall be installed by the Board. It shall be the duty of the Board to send a licensed plumber. 
(e) If the meter is installed, the Board shall do 100 per cent billing as per the meter reading.
(f) The installation fee and the maintenance of the meter shall be paid in accordance with the regulations framed under Section 17(2) of the Act.

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