The Kerala High Court held that when a specific group of litigants was granted a particular relief by the courts, the same relief could not be denied to individuals in identical circumstances.

The Court noted that such relief could be denied if it is established that the second group of individuals were guilty of latches, delay or acquiescence.

The Court allowed the Petitions of Agricultural and Rural Development (ARD) workers seeking commission for the distribution of food kits during COVID-19 and Oman Season.

The Bench of Justice Devan Ramachandran observed, “when a certain section of litigants are given a particular relief by Courts, it cannot be denied to identically situated persons, except for the reasons already enumerated above, namely, if it is established that they are guilty of latches, delay or acquiescence”.

Senior Advocate K. Jaju Babu appeared for the Petitioner and Special Government Pleader Sri. S Ranjith appeared for the Respondent.

These writ petitions follow previous ones, WP(C)No.17739/2021 and connected matters, which were affirmed by a Division Bench, with related Special Leave Petitions dismissed by the Supreme Court. The petitioners, Authorized Retail Distributors (ARD) under the Kerala Rationing Order, asserted that they complied with government directives to distribute food kits during the COVID-19 pandemic and Onam Season. They claimed promised commissions were denied without explanation.

The Court noted that the Petitioner emphasized equal treatment for identically situated individuals. The Court noted that the respondents did not accuse the petitioners of delay or acquiescence. The Petitioners contended that seeking similar relief after this judgment is prohibited and requested the dismissal of the writ petition.

The Court noted that the State did not accuse the petitioners of delay in seeking benefits from previous judgments. The main contention was whether the distribution of food kits by the petitioners should be considered a free service. While the State contended that earlier judgments only apply to specific petitioners, it fails to provide a valid defence against extending benefits to similarly situated individuals. The judgments have already ruled against the State's argument that the food kits were distributed as a free service. Therefore, identically situated individuals have the right to seek benefits based on these rulings, even if they did not join earlier petitions.

The Court referred to the case of State of Uttar Pradesh v Arunkumar Srivastava [2015(1)SCC 347] and reiterated that identically situated litigants were entitled to the same relief granted by the courts unless they were found guilty of delay, latches, or acquiescence.

The Court noted that since there were no such factors mentioned in the counter pleadings or argued by the respondents, it was clear that the previous judgment applied to these cases.

Consequently, the Court noted that the petitioners were entitled to relief, as the only contention against them had already been dismissed by the court in previous litigation. Therefore, the Court allowed the Writ Petitions and instructed the Government to disburse any arrears of commission owed to the petitioners for distributing COVID-19 Free Food Kits and Onam Kits, as specified in the relevant Government Orders, within four months from the date of this judgment, considering the fiscal constraints cited by the Government.

Accordingly, the Court allowed the Petitions.

Cause Title: Thomas Varkey v State Of Kerala (2024/KER/8175)

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