The Kerala High Court has set aside the order of the Kannur District Collector canceling the appointment of Seva Bharathi as a Relief Agency for providing free relief services relating to the Covid-19 pandemic. The NGO had earlier been appointed by the Centre Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences (CCRAS), Ministry of AYUSH for distributing AYUSH-64, an Ayurvedic medicine developed by the Ministry of AYUSH for treating asymptomatic Covid-19 patients.
The petitioner, Seva Bharathi contended that it is a voluntary service organization providing charitable services at grass-root levels throughout India with the aid of thousands of volunteers. Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the petitioner was providing services to many people affected by the pandemic, completely on a charitable basis. Petitioner contended that the action had been taken against it without giving it any notice or opportunity of hearing.
The Writ Petition was opposed by the District Administration contending that it had received complaints about the petitioner using signs and symbol of a political party. Within two days of appointment as a Relief Agency, the same was canceled based upon such allegations.
The petitioner argued that the order passed was arbitrary, illegal, incorrect, politically motivated, and one causing severe miscarriage of justice. Also, that it violated the principles of natural justice. Petitioner contended that no notice was given to it before taking such a decision and no preliminary enquiry was made about the allegations.
Further, the petitioner pleaded that retaining another NGO named IRPC-DYFI, affiliated to the ruling party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), as a Relief Agency amounted to discrimination and applying double standards. The petitioner asserted that it has no political affiliation and that the allegations against it are false and motivated.
The Government Pleader on behalf of the Respondents argued that the petitioner has no statutory right to be appointed as Relief Agency. Also, the order passed by the District Collector is 'temporary' and that a final decision would be taken only after an enquiry is made and the petitioner is heard.
The single bench observed that the petitioner's claims that it is running large numbers of Health Care Centres, Mobile Clinics, Urban Area Clinics, Counselling Centres, Ambulances, Leprosy Medication and Rehabilitation Centres, Blood Banks and Blood Donation Indexes through volunteers are not in dispute.
The Court noted that the petitioner was not informed as to who used, where, and which political party's sign or symbol during the relief work and that the same has also not been stated by the Respondents in the statements filed in Court.
Further, the Court asserted that "The DDMA has not cared to make any sort of preliminary enquiry in order to convince itself that the complaints are not politically motivated and there is at least prima facie substance in the complaint."
The context in which the petitioner was recognized as a Relief Agency and the sequence of events that immediately followed give rise to genuine suspicion on the veracity of the complaints made against the petitioner, the Court observed.
The single bench held that it does not agree with the arguments of the Respondents regarding maintainability "for the reason that the petitioner has approached this Court aggrieved by the arbitrary exercise of power by a public authority. The petitioner is challenging an order which prima facie causes aspersions on it."
The Writ Petition was allowed and the order cancelling the appointment was set aside.