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SC to vet petrol pump allotments

New Delhi, Nov. 12: The Supreme Court today told the Centre it would scrutinise the allotment of petrol pumps and dealerships in petroleum products while examining the legality of the government’s decision to cancel all allotments since January 2000.

A division bench of Justices Y.K. Sabharwal and H.K. Sema fixed December 11 for final hearings in the case after solicitor-general Kirit Rawal said he had no knowledge on what grounds the allotments were granted and suddenly cancelled. The court had earlier stayed the cancellations.

Several dealers and dealership companies have challenged the government’s August 9 order, which came after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee decided to scrap the allotments following allegations of favouritism and corruption.

In today’s proceedings, the bench said the solicitor-general would present some “representative cases” to the court, so it need not go into each and every allotment and their cancellation.

For example, several genuine allotments like those to ex-servicemen, war widows and the handicapped were also cancelled in the wake of the sweeping order.

The Centre, however, justified its move. In its affidavit, it said the “cancellation was done to ensure probity in public life” and contended that the action was not “illegal, arbitrary or unconstitutional”.

The government, the affidavit stated, had taken a “policy decision (to) go for an across the board revocation of the allotments”.

The affidavit also said the government had the “power to direct cancellation”. It said whenever complaints were received they were attended to “by the machinery put in place” and since there were complaints, the government had cancelled all the allotments since January 2000.

The government has to maintain a “clean image, ensure fair play in action and probity in governance”, the affidavit said, submitting that “such a measure (cancellation) was taken without any desire to favour or harm somebody and without any ulterior motive whatsoever”.

It said the petitioners “have no legal right which can be enforced under Article 226 of the Constitution” and prayed for the dismissal of all the petitions.

But the judges pointed out that there might have been some cases of fair allotment. “What the government has done is cancelled all. There would have been some cases which would have been allotted fairly. Has the government taken the trouble of examining which are the cases in which it found favouritism was done'” the bench asked. They judges also declined to recall the stay on the government order.

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