The Madras High Court has stayed a tender notification of the Indian Ports Association for selection of law firms for legislative drafting of the proposed revamp of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1958 and its rules. A division bench, comprising Justices M Sathyanarayanan and P Rajamanickam, granted the interim stay while admitting a plea by master mariner, captain R Venkataramanan, who challenged the criteria fixed by the association. The association comes under the administrative control of the ministry of shipping. Venkataramanan alleged that the association, by issuing such a tender notification, was attempting to overreach their powers by taking up the role of the legislature.
“The notification dated December 28, 2108 suffers from administrative over reach of legislative function and outsourcing of legislative function for monetary consideration,” the petitioner alleged. Referring to the eligibility criteria fixed by the association for law firms to participate in the tender, he submitted that only law firms operating out of Delhi, that too with a gross annual turnover of Rs 5 crore, were allowed to participate. “This is a clear violation of equality guaranteed under the Constitution. In matters of public employment, an equal opportunity has to be given to all persons and the same cannot be rationalistically restricted,” he said. Besides this, the Merchant Shipping Bill introduced in Parliament on December 16, 2016, was still pending and has not even been debated or passed by the Lok Sabh, he said. “In fact, the Bill is a Bill pending for consideration before the 16th Lok Sabha,” he added.
The petitioner claimed that there can be no presumption under law that only lawyers working out of Delhi would have knowledge on law, let alone shipping and allied laws. The bench, after hearing the submission by the petitioner and going through the materials, said it was of the considered view that the two eligibility criteria fixed in the tender notification has to be stayed “as it prima facie appears to be irrational, arbitrary and unreasonable.” It then stayed the tender notification.
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