New Delhi, March 1: The Supreme Court has indicated that it is prima facie satisfied with the Centre’s justification of the FDI policy and said the court can interfere with such policy matters only if it is “grossly arbitrary” and does not withstand “constitutional validity”.
“If a policy is challenged, it has to be tested on the touchstone principles of constitutional validity and not on philosophy as to whether the economic policy will have an impact on the social life,” said Justice R.M. Lodha, heading a three-judge bench.
The bench of Justices Lodha, J. Chelameshwar and Madan B. Lokur, however, asked petitioner Manohar Lal Sharma, an advocate who filed the PIL challenging the FDI policy, to file his counter-affidavit within two weeks and posted the matter for further hearing to March 19.
When Sharma sought a directive from the court to the Centre to place on record the “minutes of the cabinet meeting” that preceded the decision to allow FDI in multi-brand retail, Justice Lodha said: “Courts can’t be doing roving-and-fishing inquiry. Facts have come before us. Now complete details are available. Everything is in place.”
Justice Lodha referred to the threshold for court intervention. “We can’t interfere unless something is so grossly arbitrary and does not withstand the test of constitutional validity court,” the judge said.
The bench told Sharma that since the Centre’s affidavit was satisfactory, nothing survived in the matter. “Complete matter has been placed before us in an affidavit.”
However, upon the counsel’s plea, the apex court granted him two weeks to file a counter-affidavit.
In its affidavit, the Centre defended the policy, saying the decision to allow FDI in multi-brand retail is formulated by the government in conformity with Fema (the Foreign Exchange Maintenance Act) 2000.
The primary focus of the government was to ensure benefit to consumers by enlarging the choice of purchase at more affordable prices, eradicating the traditional trade intermediaries and middlemen and to facilitate better access to the market for the producers of goods, the affidavit said.
It said the organised retail sector would create a quality labour class with vocational training in skilled and unskilled jobs at graduate and tenth-plus level.
The Centre iterated that the decision to allow FDI up to 51 per cent in multi-brand retail was only an enabling policy. State governments and Union territories are free to take their own decisions to implement the policy, it said.
Most states that have accepted the policy are Congress-ruled. “The states and Union territories which have conveyed their agreement to allow FDI in multi-brand retailing trade at present are Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Delhi, Haryana, J&K, Maharasthra, Manipur, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Daman and Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli,” it said.