A Division Bench of the Kerala High Court comprising of Chief Justice S. Manikumar and Justice Shaji P. Chaly has upheld the judgment of the Single Judge of the Court which had set aside the cancellation of Seva Bharathi as a relief agency for providing free relief services relating to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Court held that even though the suspension order was passed against the Writ Petitioner – Seva Bharathi since allegations were made, in order to arrive at a conclusion as to whether they were correct or not, an enquiry should have been conducted.

Further, the Bench also noted that since an enquiry was not conducted, such an action was violative of principles of natural justice.

Thus, the Court observed, "In that view of the matter, we are of the clear and considered opinion that the learned single Judge was right in quashing Exhibit P4 order and we are also of the view that the appellants have not made out any case of jurisdictional error or other legal infirmities justifying our interference in an intra court appeal."

The State had preferred an appeal assailing the impugned judgment of the Single Judge of Kerala High Court passed on August 26, 2021. The Single Judge had allowed the Writ Petition holding that 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 District Disaster Management Authority, Kannur represented by its Chairperson, the District Collector (5th Respondent) had appointed Seva Bharathi as a Relief Agency on May 22, 2021, however on May 25, 2021, just three days later, cancelled the appointment the Petitioner as a relief agency, which the Petitioner had claimed to be illegal and arbitrary.

The Single Judge had also held there was arbitrariness and illegality on the part of the District Collector, Kannur especially due to the fact that in Exhibit P4, what was stated was that the appointment of the petitioner as a relief agency is suspended temporarily.

The Appellant– State argued before the Court that the suspension order admittedly was passed as an interim measure and the same happened to be passed since serious complaints were received regarding the nature of activities, indulged in by the writ petitioner under the guise of voluntary activities.

It was also urged that in the guise of the appointment given to the petitioner as a voluntary agency, the writ petitioner has misused the said appointment and promoted the political patronage of the writ petitioner, which is violative of section 34(l) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, which specifies to ensure that the non-governmental organisations carry out their activities in an equitable and non-discriminatory manner.

Senior Government Pleader K.P. Harish appeared for the Appellants, while Counsel V.N. Sankarjee appeared for the Writ Petitioner – 1st Respondent. Counsel K.S. Arunkumar appeared for the District Disaster Management Authority along with ASG S. Manu.

The Court noted that the temporary suspension order issued against the Petitioner contemplated an enquiry, however, no enquiry was conducted.

"Even though the writ petitioner is a voluntary organisation, which discharged only voluntary functions supporting the District Administration to combat Covid-19 pandemic, definitely certain rights were conferred on it on the basis of the same and by virtue of the provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2005," the Bench added.

Further, the Court also held, "It is also clear from Exhibit P4 that certain aspersions are made against the writ petitioner to the effect that in the guise of the voluntary service it has attempted to promote a political party, which they represent and, therefore, the District Collector ought to have conducted an enquiry and adjudicated the issue as to whether the writ petitioner has indulged in such an activity in the guise of voluntary service. It was taking into account the fundamental aspect that the writ petitioner was kept out without conducting any enquiry into the allegations made in Exhibit P4 that Exhibit P4 order was set aside."

Thus, the Court held that since no enquiry was conducted and the activity carried on by the Petitioner was voluntary in nature, the action violates principles of natural justice.

Accordingly, the Court dismissed the appeal.

Cause Title - The State of Kerala & Ors. v. Deseeya Sevabharathi & Ors.

Click here to read/download the Judgment