S.S. Sandhawalia, C.J.
1. In this act of 24 Civil writ petitions, the points of fact and law are utterly identical and the learned counsel for the parties are agreed that this judgment would cover all of them.
2. In view of the identity of the facts, it suffices to advert to those in civil writ petition No. 1447 of 1976 Madan Lal v. State of Punjab in which the main arguments were addressed by Mr. H. L. Sibal whilst the other learned counsel virtually rested themselves content by adoption the same.
3. The primary claim herein is to the title and possession of a two-kanal plot by the petitioners in the Bhatinda Urban Estate and the sale of sites therein s averred to be governed by the Punjab Urban Estates (Development and Regulation) Act, 1964 and the Punjab Urban Estates (Sales of Sites) Rules, 1965 framed thereunder. It is averred that respondent No. 2 the Estate Officer invited applications with earnest money of 10 percent regarding the allotment of two-kanal plots = plots in the urban estate aforesaid under Rule 5. of the Rules above mentioned. The petitioners submitted an application along with a Demand Draft dated 28th of October, 1971 for a sum of Rs. 2,500/- for the allotment of a two-kanal plot. Apparently, much later on the 26th of February, 1972, respondent No. 2 is alleged to have put in an advertisement in 'The Tribune', in the following terms:--
'The allotment of residential plots of one,-kanal, 10 marlas and 7 1/2 marlas in the Urban Estate, Bhatinda, will be made by draw of lots on 28-2-1972 at 11 A.M. in the premises of Deputy Commissioner's Office, Bhatinda
Two-kanal plots will be sold on cash down basis. Intending purchasers including those who have already applied should send their applications along with bank draft of Rs. 25,000/- representing tentative price of the plot, drawn in favour of Estate Officer, Urban Estates, Punjab, Chandigarh to Smt. Susheel Gupta, Executive Magistrate,. Bhatinda or to the undersigned by l5th March, 1972.' In response to the said advertisement, the petitioners forwarded e sum of Rs. 22,500/- by a Demand Draft with a covering letter to the Estate Officer. It is the claim that thereby the full consideration for a two-kanal plot was duly despatched in accordance with the advertisement. It is then claimed that the respondents accepted the aforesaid amount and took a decision for the allotment of a plot in favour of the petitioners which was conveyed to them vide annexure P/1, whereby they directed to comply with the conditions specified in the same. In accordance therewith the petitioners submitted their affidavit and also a letter of acceptance and claim to have complied with the requisite formalities desired by the Estate Officer. On this basis, the petitioners claim that a complete contract was established between the petitioners and the respondents for the allotment of a two-kanal plot in the Urban Estate of Bhatinda. It is averred that thereafter the petitioners were entitled to secure possession of such a plot in accordance with R. 7, but nevertheless the same was inordinately delayed despite repeated enquiries and demands made by them. Instead, they received a communication (annexure P/2) dated the 20th of November, 1974 desiring them to intimate whether they were willing to accept a one-kanal plot instead of a two-kanal plot and if so, to intimate their acceptance within 15 days. The petitioners, however, insisted on their claim of a two-kanal plot and despite repeated reminders and communications no further action was taken by the respondents. On these facts, the petitioners assail the validity of annexure P/2 and seek the ultimate relief of a mandamus for the delivery of the possession of a two-kenal plot to them forthwith and in the alternative, if for one reason or the other, a two-kanal plot cannot he made available immediately then. two contiguous one-kanal plots be allotted and possession be delivered in lieu of the price already paid.
4. In the return filed by the Estate Officer Urban Estate, Punjab, the broad factual position is not denied with the clarification that the price mentioned in the advertisement in The Tribune was only tentative and was liable to revision. However, the firm stand taken is that no complete contract took place between the parties and the same could arise only on the issuance of a valid allotment order under the Act and the Rules and since admittedly no such allotment order was issued there was no question of delivering possession. It is stated that Rule 7 can be invoked only on the pre-condition that there is an allotment order
5. The basic stand of the respondent-State is that whilst as yet the matter of the allotment to the Petitioners was under consideration, the State Government arrived at an overall policy decision that no plot carved out in any Urban Estate should exceed the size of 500 square, yards. It was in accordance with this decision that the petitioners along with other applicants for two-kanal plots, were asked to intimate their willingness to accept allotment of one-kanal plot instead of a two-kanal one. It has been repeatedly reiterated that till the issuance of the allotment order, no legal title or right of possession at all vested in the petitioners. With regard to the rationale underlying the policy decision to limit residential plots in urban estates to 500 square yards. it has been averred as follows in. para 18 of the return:--
'18. Denied, The Government have inherent right to revise the policy keeping in view the circumstances. The revised policy that the maximum size of a plot to be carved out in any Urban Estate would not exceed 500 square yards was based on the realisation that with rapid urbanisation and ever increasing pressure on land, it would be irrational to allow large sized plots for the construction of individual residential units It was in pursuance of this revised policy that the petitioner vide letter annexure P/2 to the writ petition was requested to intimate if he was willing to get a one-kanal plot instead of a two-kanal plot. Moreover, no right has accrued to the petitioner as the officer as sent by him had neither been finally accepted nor any allotment order issued to him.'
Lastly the stand is that the matter being patently contractual, a civil. suit is the only Proper remedy under the facts and circumstances alleged by the petitioners.
6. Now it is plain that the primary. end basic claim on behalf of the petitioners is a mandamus directing the respondents to allot a two-kanal plot to each of the petitioners in the Urban Estates in Bhatinda and as a necessary consequence thereof to deliver possession of the same to them. It is settled law that to seek such a relief the petitioners must show a clear public duty laid upon the respondents and a corresponding right vested in them to claim the performance thereof. Mr. H. L. Sibal there-fore had necessarily to fall back upon the statute itself and the Rules framed. It was contended that thereunder the petitioners could lay claim both to title as well as to. the possession of a two-kanal plot each. However, it appears to me that the learned counsel for the petitioners was only clutching at a straw in invoking some of the provisions of the statute and the rules whilst seeking a writ of mandamus.
7. Inevitably, one must first turn to the Punjab Urban Estates (Development and Regulation) Act, 1964. Section 2(i) thereof defines a 'site' as the land which is transferred by the State Government under Section 3 and sub-section (j) then specifies that the word 'transfer' includes a sale or lease of a site or building under the same section. Section 3(2) then provides for the transfer by auction, allotment or otherwise of land or building belonging to the State Government in an Urban Estate, on such terms and conditions as it may, subject to any rules made under the Act, think fit to impose. The material provisions however, are of the Punjab Urban Estates (Sales of Sites) Rules, 1965, duly framed under the power conferred under Section 23 of the Act. Therein, reference in particular may be made to sub-see. (2)(a) and (b) thereof which specify that without Prejudice to the generality of the power to frame rules they may provide for the terms and conditions on which any land or building may be transferred by the State Government as also the manner in which consideration money for any transfer may be paid.
8. Now a reference to Rule 3 of the Punjab Urban Estates (Sale of Sites) Rules, 1965 (herein called the 'Rules') would clearly indicate that two modes are provided thereby for the transfer of sites and these are by auction or allotment. In the present case, admittedly, the transfer being not by auction, the specific provision which is directly attracted is Rule 5 and the relevant part thereof may first be read:--
'5. Application for sale by allotment(1) In case of sale by allotment the intending purchaser shall make an application. to the Estate Officer-concerned in the form (annexed to these rules as) given in Schedule 'A'.
(2) No application under sub-rule (1) shall be valid, unless it is accompanied by ten per cent of, the (tentative price or final price) in the form of a demand draft payable to the Estate Officer and drawn on any Scheduled Bank situated at the dearest place to the estate concerned or at any other place which the Estate Officer may specify.
(3) When ten per cent of the price has been tendered, the State Government or such authority as it may appoint in this behalf may allot a site of the size applied for. Intimation of such allotment shall be given to the applicant(s) by registered post giving the number, dimensions, area and (tentative price or final price) of the site allotted.'
9. Now so far as the right to the allotment of a two-kanal plot. is concerned, it is evident that the primary statutory provision from which it can possibly flow is sub-rule (3) quoted above. On its plain language, it prescribes that the State Govt. may allot a site of the size applied for, provided all other conditions are satisfied Therefore, herein, there is neither a mandate nor any obligatory public duty cast upon the State Government to do so. Since the matter is covered by authoritative and binding. precedent so far as we are concerned, it is unnecessary to elaborate the point. An identical issue was sought to be raised before the Full Bench in Surjit Singh v. State of Punjab, ILR (1979) 1 Punj & Har 178 on the basis of this very R. 5(3) and it was held as follows:--
'The words 'may allot a site' cannot be read to mean 'shall allot a site' as that, in a given situation, can create such complications which may not be remediable. By filing an application in accordance with law, the applicant only gets a right of consideration of his application, but he does not get a vested right for allotment of the plot. The conditions laid down in the first scheme or the provisions of R. 5(3) do not give any right to the applicants to claim allotment: of plots as a matter of right. There is nothing in the scheme or the Act or the Rules which requires the adoption of the principle of 'first come first served' at the time of allotment, or debars the Government from adopting the method of. drawing lots. The petitioners have not been able to lay foundation for establishing their right which could legally be enforced and the petitioners have completely failed to make out a case for the exercise of our extraordinary jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India'
10. We are bound by the aforesaid enunciation of the law and it is plain therefrom that no mandamus of the kind sought for on behalf of the petitioners can be issued. In that, event perhaps little else arises for determination.
11. Nevertheless, in fairness to the learned counsel for the parties, it becomes necessary to notice some of the other contentions advanced on their behalf. Having been conclusively repelled under Rule 5 aforesaid, counsel had lowered his sights and attempted to fall back on the provisions of R. 7. In order to appreciate the contention, R. 7 may first be quoted for facility of reference:--
'7. Delivery of possession.--The possession of the site shall be delivered to the transferee after the payment of 25 per cent,--
(a) in the case of sale by allotment of the tentative price or final price and within three months of the issue of the allotment order to him, and
(b) in the case of sale by auction, of the sale price referred to in sub-rule (2) of R. 4 and within three months of the date of the auction.)
12. Now, in order to determine the applicability or otherwise of the aforesaid rule, it becomes necessary to highlight the admitted factual position. In pursuance of the advertisement in 'The Tribune', the petitioners and perhaps others had made a deposit of the total tentative price of a two-kanal plot and were merely informed vide annexure P-2/T that it had been decided to allot a plot to the petitioners provided they comply with certain pre-conditions in the said letter. Now the second thing is that neither the number nor the dimensions nor the particular area of each plot (undoubtedly a two-kanal plot could marginally vary on either side) and even the tentative or the final price of the same was ever remotely specified in any communication. Therefore, before the matter could achieve any reasonable degree of concreteness a general policy decision was taken by the State that in view of the mounting and unending pressure on urban land in the whole of the State, no residential plots above an area of 500 square yards or one-kanal were to. be transferred in the State sponsored urban estates. Therefore, a fair enough offer was made to the petitioners in the light of this policy requiring them to intimate whether in accordance, therewith, they are willing to accept the largest sized one-kanal plot now possible for allotment. It was submitted on behalf of the respondent-State that the petitioners, however, wanted their pound of flesh in insisting on a claim of plots larger than laid down by policy and perhaps primarily motivated because with the passage of time prices had sharply risen and they could, therefore, secure much more than their money's worth by laying claim to an area of two-kanal or more.
13. Now the second thing therein is that the statutory rules governing transfer of sites nowhere provide for any transfer of plot on a cash-down basis nor for the automatic finalization of the contract on this being done. The invitation to make offers on these premises by the advertisement in The Tribune was, therefore, admittedly outside the scope of the statutory rules. Rule 5(3) already quoted and referred to in terms provides that the offer on behalf of the respondent State must first be intimated to the applicant by registered post by giving the number, dimensions, area and tentative price or final price of the site to be intended to be allotted to him. This admittedly was never done. Equally, it is the admitted and undisputed position that no allotment order for any specific or numbered plot was never issued to any one of the petitioners. Therefore, an impossible hurdle arises in the way of the petitioners in seeking a mandamus under the rules. Obviously, in the absence of a valid allotment order, R. 7. cannot even remotely come into play. A plain reading of clause (a) thereof would show that possession is to be delivered within three months of the issue of the allotment order to the applicant. It is obvious that unless and until a particularised plot with fixed dimensions and identity with a specific tentative price finally has been made the subject matter of an allotment order in favour of the applicants no possible question of the delivery of possession to him can arise. What possession can possibly be delivered in such a situation is what one fails to visualize. Consequently to invoke R. 7, in the admitted absence of an allotment order, appears to me as the proverbial case of' 'putting the cart before the horse'. Therefore, apart from the Full Bench authority in Surjit Singh v. State of Punjab, ILR (1979) 1 Punj & Har 178 the claim of the petitioners for a mandamus under R. 7 seems to be equally unfounded and far-fetched.
14. Rebuffed on the basic claim under Rr. 5 and 7 the learned counsel for the petitioners had then sought to raise their claim on the rather slippery ground that wen though there was no legal right vested in them neither a corresponding duty laid on the respondents, yet in fact they could secure the same relief on the basis of an alleged promissory estoppel. It was argued that having once suggested an allotment in their favour vide annexure P-1/T, the respondent-State was bound to abide by it and take all the necessary steps to put it in a concrete shape. Reliance herein was primarily placed on the recent judgment of their Lordships in Motilal Padamat Sugar Mills Co. Ltd. v. State of U. P., AIR 1979 SC 621. On its basis it was argued that the respondent-State could not be allowed to go back on its alleged suggestion of the allotment of a plot whether for reasons of policy or otherwise.
15. Herein again, the petitioners are confronted with a hurdle not possible to cross at least within this Court, on existing precedent. An identical argument and reliance on Motilal Padampat Sugar Mills Co. Ltd. v. State of U. P., AIR 1979 SC 621, was made before a Division Bench in the context of the levy of house-tax in the city of Chandigarh The Division Bench to which I was a party in Des Raj Juneja v. Union of India, ILR (1979) 1 Punj & Har 388 held that Motilal Padampat Sugar Mills Co. Ltd.'s case could not have pre-eminence over a long line of earlier precedents of the larger Benches of their Lordships themselves. Harbans Lal J., speaking for the Bench observed:--
'Thus, according to the law laid dawn in Ram Kumar's case (AIR 1976 SC 2237), there can be no promissory estoppel or equitable estoppel against the Government, in the exercise of its sovereign, legislative or executive functions, whereas according to the ratio of the decision in Motilal Padampat Sugar Mill's case (supra), the Government while exercising its executive functions cannot claim immunity from this doctrine and is bound by its promises and assurances unless facts can be proved showing the overriding consideration of public interest and equity in its favour not to be hampered by estoppel arising from its promises. There appears to be apparent divergence of opinion regarding the scope and ambit of this doctrine of promissory estoppel between the two latest judgments of the Supreme Court. Faced with this delicate situation, this Court is called upon. to chalk out a course for itself. The same depends the answer to the question. The decision of which judgment is binding on the High Court as declaration of law as envisaged under Article 141 of the Constitution?
and then concluded-
'In the present case, the decision in Ram Kumar's case (supra), wherein it was expressly held that there cannot be any promissory estoppel against the Government while performing its sovereign legislative and executive functions, is by a four-Judge Bench whereas the one in Motilal Padampat Sugar Mills's case (supra), is by a Bench of two Judges though the same is later in point of time. Keeping in view the dictum of law by the Supreme Court itself in the abovementioned two decisions, I am bound by the law as laid down in Ram Kumar's. case (supra).'
In view of the above Mr. Sibal's repeated reliance on Motilal Padampat Sugar Mills Co. Ltd's case is, therefore, of no avail.
16. Again even assuming entirely for the sake of argument that Motilal Padampat Sugar Mills Co. Ltd.'s case holds the field on the legal aspect, it seems difficult, if not impossible, on the facts to spell out any firm promise on the part of the respondents to allot any specified two-kenal plot of precise dimensions, identity and price to any one of the petitioners or to infer the basic pre-requisite of a promissory estoppel on the facts of this case. Even a plain reading of the advertisement in The Tribune, which had been particularly relied upon on behalf of the petitioners would show that the same cannot possibly be constituted any higher than an invitation for offers on behalf of the respondents with regard to a large number of plots carved out in the Bhatinda Urban Estate. In response thereto, the petitioners can, at best have made an offer by complying with the said invitation. That would not by itself create either a promise or a contract, because it is well settled that only an acceptance in categorical and unequivocal terms can lead to a binding or an enforceable promise. The cardinal thing, however, on which the equitable doctrine of promissory estappel rests is that on the basis of the alleged promise, the promisee must have necessarily acted thereon, Whether such action must necessarily be to his detriment or otherwise, is perhaps a vexted question into which it is unnecessary to delve. Herein, the admitted position is that even long before the issuance of annexure P-1/T, the petitioners had done all, upon which they now wish to rest themselves, namely, to tender the money purporting to be the total tentative price of a two-kanal plot. Thereafter, there is no further elaboration of the position or any irreversible action or change made by the petitioners on the basis of annexure P-1/T upon which an irrevocable equitable right in the shape of a promissory estoppel could be claimed. Mr. I. S. Tiwana, therefore, was on solid ground in contending that the necessary factual pre-requisite of a promissory estoppel also have not been established on the record by any one of the petitioners.
17. In fairness to Mr. Tiwana, his last argument in the context cannot, but deserve notice. it was submitted that even assuming everything in favour of the petitioners, yet the State on well considered reasons having made a change of policy to the effect that no residential plot in the urban estates was to be above the size of one-kanal, it could not be riveted to the earlier position by resort to the doctrine of promissory estoppel. Counter-attacking and relying on State of Punjab v. Amrit Banaspati Co. Ltd., 1977 Cur LJ (Civ.) 442, which was cited by the learned counsel for the petitioners he highlighted the following observations in para 47 of the report:--
'....Again, a Government cannot bind itself or a succeeding Government, by an estoppel, to a fixed policy. The politic dynamism of the State requires review and revision of policy and a Government must have the right at all times to change its policy. Accrued rights have to be honoured no doubt. But, no rights based on promissory estoppel can ever be considered to accrue which are against the public interest and opposed to the public policy or which affect the public revenues. No one can be permitted to take undue advantage of a representation made by a servant of the people and claim rights as against the people themselves and to their proven detriment, if such rights are not consistent with the public good. A rule of evidence such as equitable estoppel may not be invoked against the people and the State if it is shown to be against the general interest of the people and the State or against the advancement of their known social policy or if it affects the public revenues. Precise definition of the limits is difficult as this branch of the law is yet evolving Boundaries will have. to be determined in individual eases with reference to the facts of the cases.'
On the aforesaid premises: Mr. Tiwana submitted that in the, face of mounting and unending pressure on urban land end in pursuance of an avowed-welfare and socialistic policy--it has now been decided as a matter of principle to restrict the largest sized residential site in all urban estates within the whole of the State of Punjab to one-kanal only. Counsel submitted that no fault could be found in such a decision, the objects of which were obviously. laudable. Therefore, even on the extreme position, the respondent-State had made out an adequate case to deviate from the earlier policy of allotment of two-kanal plots in the larger public interest. It was submitted that even otherwise the respondent-State, acted in utmost fairness and had made an offer of the highest category of residential plots now available to the petitioners vide p-2/T which was eminently reasonable and also adequate notice of the new policy long before any finalization of the offer had been given. It was forcefully contended that the petitioners had neither acted to their detriment or in any way placed themselves in a position which was irreversible. Counsel submitted that the status quo ante can always be restored if the petitioners so desire either by the refund of the money offered by them or by the allotment of one-kanal plot each in accordance with the now existing universal policy within the State. I am-inclined to take the view that even on this last point also, if necessary the Respondent-State is entitled to defend its position successfully.
18. All that now remains is to refer to two authorities on which some reliance was placed on behalf of the petitioners. Atamnagar Co-operative House Building Society Ltd. v. State of Punjab, 1979 Rev LR 190 is completely distinguishable on facts. Therein, the petitioning society had been categorically promised the allotment of 200 residential plots by the Chairman of the Improvement Trust, Ludhiana. However, the whole scheme proved to be still-born, because at the instance of the landowner, whose land was sought to be acquired for the purpose, the High Court quashed the same on the ground that a period of more than three years had intervened between the time when the Trust issued the earlier notification to acquire the land and the second notification relating to the actual acquisition. Holding that a second scheme which was a replica of the first and had been prepared to overcome merely the said technicality, the Bench held that the Improvement Trust could not be allowed to take the benefit of its own wrong and negligence and deny allotment of the promised plots to the Society. It is obvious that the facts are so materially different that these can be of little or no aid to the petitioners in the present case.
19. However, the single Bench judgment in Sangat Singh v. Union Territory Chandigarh, (1976) 78 Punj LR 404, appears to us with respect contrary to the weight of binding precedent and to principle as well. Therein the Chandigarh Administration had merely prepared a scheme for the allotment of plots in Sector-38 Chandigarh for Indian citizens residing abroad. In pursuance of that scheme, the petitioner had only forwarded an application with 10 per cent of the price of the plot as earnest money seeking the allotment of two-kanal plot therein. It appeared that the matter was considerably delayed in correspondence betwixt the parties and the Administration instead offereed a one kanal plot at a higher price to the petitioner. The petitioner, however, laid claim to the allotment of two-kanal plot at the original price which was allowed in the very peculiar circumstances of the case. The learned single Judge seems to have been greatly influenced by the inordinate delay in finalizing the matter by the Chandigarh Administration and the reading of the judgment would disclose that this was the underlying reason for the grant of a writ in an exceptional hard case. Nevertheless, the learned single Judge himself observed as follows:--
'It was open to the Administration to reject the application and refund the earnest money if it was not in accordance with the scheme but it chose to keep mum for over 5 1/2 years, The earnest money of Rs. 3,360/- received by the Chandigarh Administration in February, 1969 is still lying with them.'
It is evident from the above that the learned single Judge seems to have himself held that no vested right arose in favour of the petitioner merely by putting in an application with earnest money. There is, however, no gainsaying the fact that there are observations in the judgment to the effect that by the mere putting in an application with earnest money a vested right had inhered in the petitioner to a plot of two-kenals originally advertised by the scheme. With great deference if is not possible to accede to this as a proposition of law. A look at the provisions of that scheme seems hardly to leave any manner of doubt that an application for allotment of the plot was merely an offer to purchase a certain plot at a certain price by the applicant and the Administration would be within its right to accept or reject such an offer. Till such an offer was irrevocably accepted and an allotment made, in our view no vested legal right would arise in favour of the petitioner. This appears to us as plain on principle and is further buttressed by the Full Bench judgment of this court in Surjit Singh v. State of Punjab ILR (19791) 1 Punj & Har 178 referred to earlier, in which it has been held in categoric terms that by filing an application with earnest money, the applicant can at best get a right of the consideration of the application, but does not get a vested right for allotment of the plot. The view of the learned single Judge on this point is thus obviously contrary to the later Full Bench
20. Again as regards the observations of the learned single Judge, in the said case on the point of promissory estoppel, these also run contrary to what has been held in the recent Division Bench Judgment in Des Raj Juneja v. Union of India, ILR (1979) 1 Punj & Har 388. For all these reasons it appears that Sangat Singh's case has not laid down the law correctly and is hereby overruled.
21. For the aforesaid reasons, I am unable to find any merit in this set of writ petitions which are hereby dismissed. The parties, however, are left to bear their own costs.
G.C. Mital, J.
22. I agree.
23. Petitions dismissed.