Kerala High Court: State’s duty to protect interests of its citizen

The Kerala High Court on Wednesday observed that it is the responsibility of the State to pay citizens engaged with them on a contract basis for work. The state should be in line with the terms and conditions of the contract rather than creating problems, especially in terms of payments. [Vishnu & Anr. v State of Kerala & Ors.].

Facts of the Case

 The Petition was filed by two sons of a deceased contractor. The Petitioner’s father was a Public Works Department (PWD) Contractor. The Department of Irrigation had assigned construction work of a protection wall on the bank of Karamana river to one PWD contractor K. Muraleedharan. However, the said contractor failed to execute the work hence he executed a power of attorney assigning the work in the Petitioners’ father’s name. The Superintending Engineer of the Irrigation Department gave his permission for the above-mentioned and accordingly executed an agreement.  

The original contractor Muraleedharan was imposed with a liability by the Irrigation Department in some other contract where the government attempted to recover the liability amount from the bill amount of the Petitioner’s father’s contract. Consequently, the Petitioners’ father approached the Munsiff Court seeking a permanent prohibitory injunction restraining the Respondent from withholding or adjusting any amount due to his contract towards the liability of K. Muraleedharan. Even though the Munsiff Court dismissed the case the Additional District Court passed a degree in favor of the Petitioners’ father.  

The Petitioners’ father submitted 3 bills during the course of work out of which the second bill amounting to Rs. 11,99,333/- (Rupees Eleven Lakhs Ninety-Nine Thousand Three Hundred and Thirty-Three Only) was withheld due to Muraleedharan liability amounting to Rs. 7,50,758/- (Rupees Seven Lakhs Fifty Thousand Seven Hundred Fifty-Eight Only). The Government then released a portion of the amount, Rs. 4,48,475/- (Rupees Four Lakhs Forty Thousand Four Hundred Seventy-Five Only) to the Petitioners’ father by a cheque dated 24th April 2009. After which the Petitioners’ father passed away and the remaining amount became due. 

This led to the Petitioners appealing before the High Court to seek justice and receive the disbursement amount along with 12% interest. Simultaneously, the Irrigation Department filed a counter affidavit and submitted it before the court claiming that the Petitioners were barred by the law of limitation.

Observation by the High Court

The excerpts from the judgement:

“As a money claim is concerned, only a period of 3 years is available for the recovery of the amounts for a private person. However, the State Government has got a period of 30 years, by virtue of Article 112 of the Limitation Act, 1963 to recover any amounts, when the period of limitation would begin to run under the Act against a like suit by a private person.”

Justice Shaji P Chaly stated that the Government’s action of adjusting the due of Muraleedharan for some other work from the money due to the Petitioners’ father’s work was illegal and arbitrary. The Court directed the respondent to pay the balance amount due to the Petitioners within 6 weeks failing which they will be liable to pay the same with an interest at 9% per annum. 

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