1. The petitioner has had a rice mill for over 20 years in Kottagudi village, Tiruvadanai Taluk, Ramanathapuram District. After the introduction of the scheme of licensing rice mills under the Madras Act (XXIX of 1949), the petitioner obtained the requisite licence. The licensing is now regulated by the Madras Rice Mills Licensing Order, 1955.
2. On 1st August, 1955, the third respondent Balakrishnan Chettiar applied to the Collector for a license to work a rice mill of his in Kottagudi Village. It was common ground that the site selected by him for his mill was only about 40 feet away from the petitioner's mill. The petitioner lodged his objection to the grant of the license sought by the third respondent. On 9th January, 1955, the Collector rejected the application that had been preferred by the third respondent.
3. On 3rd January, 1956, the third respondent preferred what purported to be an appeal to the Government against the order of the Collector, dated 9th November, 1955, refusing the license for which the third respondent had applied. That petition was forwarded by the Government to the Commissioner of Civil Supplies on 19th January, 1956. The petitioner intervened again and lodged his objections to the grant of a license on 31st January, 1956. The Commissioner submitted his report to the Government. Again the petitioner intervened and lodged his objections with the Government. By its order, dated 23rd April, 1956, the Government treating the objections preferred by the petitioner to the grant of a license to the third respondent as 'petitions' preferred by the petitioner, rejected them. Thus in effect, the petitioners objections were overruled. The Government directed the issue of a license to the third respondent and the Collector issued that license to the third respondent on 3rd May, 1956.
4. The petitioner applied under Article 226 of the Constitution. The relief originally asked for was the issue of a writ of prohibition to restrain the Collector from granting a license to the third respondent. The application itself was preferred on 7th May, 1956, even before which date, it should be remembered, the Collector acting under the orders of the Government, granted a license to the third respondent. In C.M.P. No. 430 of 1957 the petitioner asked for and obtained permission to amend the petition, to ask for the issue of a writ of certiorari to set aside both the proceedings of the Government and the issue of the license of the third respondent.
5. In paragraph 2 of the affidavit the petitioner filed in C.M.P. No. 430 of 1957 he averred:
I understand, subsequent to the filing of the above Writ Petition No. 552 of 1956 that the second respondent had issued the license to the third respondent as directed by the Government two or three days prior to the filing of the said Writ Petition No. 552 of 1956. This fact was known to us only from the counter-affidavit filed by the third respondent in December, 1956.
One of the contentions of the third respondent was that this allegation could not be true. The petitioner's mill was admittedly close to the third respondent's mill, and the petitioner could not have been in ignorance of the fact, that the third respondent, who had commenced the construction of the mill long before he applied for the license worked that mill from May, 1956, onwards on the basis of the license issued to him by the Collector on 3rd May, 1956.
6. The Collector rejected the application of the third respondent on 9th November, 1955. The third respondent preferred an appeal to the Government on 3rd January, 1956. On 23rd April, 1956, the Government directed the issue of a license to the third respondent. That license was granted on 3rd May, 1956. I have set out these dates again to explain the basis of the objection of the petitioner to the validity of the order of the Government and the subsequent issue of the license to the third respondent. The contention of the petitioner was that, as the Madras Rice Mills Licensing Order stood up to 23rd April, 1956, the Government had no appellate jurisdiction to interfere with an order passed by the Collector.
7. The Madras Rice Mills Licensing Order, 1955, was issued under Madras Act (XXIX of 1949). These Rules were amended by the Central Government in exercise of the powers conferred on it by the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 (X of 1955). This amendment was ordered on 31st May, 1956. Rule 11-A of the Madras Rice Mills Licensing Order, as amended on 31st May, 1956, provided for an appeal against the order of the licensing authority, the, Collector, to the Commissioner of Civil Supplies, Madras. Clause (3) of Rule 11-A further provided for a revisional jurisdiction to be exercised by the State Government against an order of the Commissioner of Civil Supplies. Clause (4) of Rule 11-A ran:
In respect of orders passed before the date of coming into force of this clause, the time for appeal and revision petition shall be reckoned from the said date.
8. Appellate and revisional powers were conferred on the specified authorities on 31st May, 1956. It should, however, be remembered that in this case the order of the Government preceded this notification. The Government passed its orders on 23rd April, 1956. On that date the Government could not claim a jurisdiction to revise the order of the licensing authority, the Collector or to direct the issue of a license to the third respondent under the Madras Rice Mills Licensing Order, 1955. That position could not be disputed by the learned Counsel for the third respondent.
9. The main contention of the learned Counsel for the third respondent was that the petitioner was not entitled to any relief in the proceedings he initiated under Article 226 of the Constitution The learned Counsel submitted: (1) that the petitioner had no locus standi to maintain an application for the issue of a writ of certiorari; (2) the orders of the Government were administrative in their scope and therefore outside the purview of the jurisdiction this Court could exercise under Article 226 of the Constitution by the issue of a writ of certiorari and (3) in any event, since the relief of certiorari is essentially a discretionary relief, this Court in the circumstances of this case, should not exercise its discretion in favour of the petitioner by setting aside the orders passed by the Government.:
10. In Writ Appeal No. 107 of 1955, Natesa Mudaiiar v. Regional Transport Officer, Chingleput, a Division Bench of this Court laid down:
Taking, for instance, the writ of cerliorari, it has never been doubted that this Court, as the inheritor of the jurisdiction possessed by the original Supreme Court, had the power to quash the order of an inferior Tribunal, quasi-judicial or administrative, if such order was passed without jurisdiction or if there was an error apparent on the face of the order vide Besants case (1919) 37 M.L.J. 139 : 46 I.A. 176 : I.L.R. 43 Mad. 164 . This power, the High Court could exercise at the instance of an aggrieved party, irrespective of any fundamental rights being involved in the matter. Indeed this power the High Court possessed long before the Constitution guaranteed certain fundamental rights.
The learned Judges pointed out that the jurisdiction of the Court was not in any way curtailed by Article 226 of the Constitution. An aggrieved person would thus be entitled to the grant of a writ of certiorari ex debito justitiae if, for instance, he esta-blished that this order complained of was passed by an authority which had no jurisdiction at all.
11. The learned Counsel for the third respondent contended that the principle laid down in Writ Appeal No. 107 of 1955 would not be applicable to the facts of this case. He pointed out that the scheme of the Madras Rice Mills Licensing Order was quite different from that of the Motor Vehicles Act under which arose the case that was decided in Writ Appeal No. 107 of 1955. It was pointed out that the petitioner had a statutory right to be heard before the statutory authority exercised its jurisdiction. The learned Counsel for the third respondent contended that there was no such provision in the Madras Rice Mills Licensing Order. That, no doubt, is true. In my opinion a statutory right to object to the grant of license or permission may not be the exclusive test to apply in deciding the whether an applicant for a writ of certiorari is an 'aggrieved' person entitled to challenge the validity of the order which he seeks to avoid. In the present case it should be noticed that, though the Madras Rice Mills-Licensing Order did not in terms provide for any objections to the grant of a license being considered by the licensing authority, in fact the petitioner lodged his objections over and over again. These objections were certainly considered by the Government before it overruled them by its order, dated 23rd April, 1956. The question at issue before the Government was whether the third respondent should be granted a license. That issue was decided by the Government in favour of the third respondent and against the petitioner. The petitioner would certainly appear to be a person 'aggrieved' with that decision of the Government.
12. The learned Counsel for the petitioner referred to Rex v. Richmond Confirming Authority, Howitt, Ex parte L.R. (1921) 1 K.B. 248 , where the postion of a rival in trade, who objected to the grant of a license, was considered. That again was a case where the objector to the grant of a license had a right to be heard by this licensing authority. The learned Chief Justice pointed out at page 253:
Bearing in mind that the applicant is a person who was entitled to appear and object as having this interest that he was carrying on business as the licensee of premises in Richmond, I think the case comes within the decision of Rex v. Groom L.R. (1901) 2 K..B. 157 Ex parte Cobbold,
13. The learned Chief Justice stated at page 255:
I believe that to be the true principle upon which this Court acts. Here the applicant had an interest distinct from the general inconvenience which may be suffered by the law being wrongly administered.
If that were the test, the petitioner before me cerainly had an interst of his own in the question, whether the third respondent should be granted a license to work a rice mill in close proximity to the petitioner's. That the statutory rules in the Rice Mills Licensing Order did not specifically confer a right on a trade rival, situate as the petitioner was, to object to the grant of a license under that Order may not, in my opinion, affect the real principle to apply in such cases. Factually, as I said, both the licensing authority and the Government, which assumed an appellate jurisdiction, permitted the petitioner to make his representations objecting to the grant of the license which the third respondent had applied for. The objections were considered before the final decision was reached. In the circumstances of this case, I am convinced that the petitioner should be treated as a 'person agrieved,' a special interest of his being affected by the order, the validity of which he challenged. That clothed him with a right to invoke the jurisdiction vested in this Court by Article 226 of the Constitution to issue a writ of certiorari.
14. The second of the contentions of the learned Counsel for the third respondent, that the order of the Government was solely administrative in its scope, also fails. 'The learned Counsel referred to the observations of Imam, J., in Raman and Raman, Ltd. v. Government of Madras (1956) 1 M.L.J.169 at 173 : 1956 S.C.J. 368. In discussing the nature of the functions performed under the Motor Vehicles Act the learned Judges observed:
That they are not judicial is accepted, but, it is said, they are not administrative but quasi-judicial and therefore amenable to the jurisdiction of a Court possessing the power to issue a writ of certiorari. In proceeding under Sections 47, 64 and 64-A of the Act there is no determination of any individual's rights and from that point of view the functions of these authorities may be regarded as executive or administrative. On the other hand, it may be said that a person has the fundamental right to carry on his business of plying buses and therefore has the right to have the statutory functions of these authorities properly exercised in which case they would be quasi-judicial functions.
As I understand the judgment, this passage would appear only to set out two possible views, because the learned Judge proceeded to say:
Assuming this to be so, it has yet to be seen whether the State Government acted in excess of its legal authority.
15. It is not necessary for me to examine now what precisely the position is under the Motor Vehicles Act, which, at least with reference to the grant of permits, specifically provided for an element of selection among the applicants for the permit.
16. No doubt, under the Madras Rice Mills Licensing Order as it stood, there was no specific provision made for restricting the number of licenses that could be issued in a given locality, which would have brought in the need for selection if more than one person applied for a license. Rule 2(2) however provided:
In the matter of issuing or refusing to issue a license a licensing authority shall be guided by such general orders as the State Government may from time to time issue to him in this behalf.
My attention was not drawn to any general direction issued before 23rd April, 1956, to restrict the number of licenses to be issued by the licensing autority in a specified locality.
17. Nonetheless I am of- the view that where statutory rules prescribe a license as in this case, as a condition precedent to the exercise by a person of his right to engage himself in a business of his choice, the grant or refusal of the license by the licensing authority cannot be viewed merely as an administrative act. In Balaraman v. Corporation of Madras : AIR1952Mad778 Subba Rao, J., observed no doubt with specific reference to the Madras City Municipal Act, that the issue of an order or refusal to issue a license is quasi-judicial. In this case it should be remembered that the third respondent applied for the issue of a license. The need to obtain a license constituted a restriction, no doubt a valid restriction. This validity of the restriction imposed by Rule 2(1) was not put in issue in that proceedings on his fundamental right to carry on his business. The question had to be determined by the licensing authority, whether the third respondent could be granted a license. That really made the determination at least quasi-judicial in its scope. The petitioner objected to the grant. It cannot be said that where from the point of view of the third respondent the determination was of a quasi-judicial nature, looked at from the point of view of the petitioner it was only administrative in its scope. It is really the nature of the statutory function discharged by the statutory authority that should determine whether the act in question was merely administrative or whether the exercise of the statutory power was quasi-judicial in its scope. It was that that determined also the scope of the appellate jurisdiction that the Government purported to exercise.
18. I am unable to accept the contention of the learned Counsel for the third respondent, that the orders of the Government and the subsequent grant of the license to the third respondent were wholly administrative in their scope, outside the purview of correction by the isue of a writ of certiorari.
In paragraph 3 of its counter-affidavit the Government averred:
The order of the Government to issue license to the third respondent is nothing more than a direction to the Collector to comply with the general instructions issued by the Government in this regard.
That may open up other question for consideration whether apart from Rule 2(2) the Government was entitled to issue instructions to the statutory authority in whom was vested the jurisdiction to grant or refuse a license. That, however, would not make the grant or refusal of a license merely an administrative act.
19. Thus the position is the application of the petitioner for the issue of a writ of certiorari, to set aside the orders of the Government, dated 23rd April, 1956 and the license issued to the third respondent by the Collector on the basis of these orders of the Govenment, is maintainable. As the grant of a license was regulated by the statutory rules in the Madras Rice Mills Licensing Order, the orders of the Government, dated 23rd April, 1956, are liable to be set aside, as the assumption of appellate or revisional jurisdiction by the Government was not then authorised by the statutory rules.
20. The question that remains is whether despite what I have recorded above, the Court should in the circumstances of this case, discharge the rule nisi in the exercise of its discretion.
21. In this case the license itself was issued on 3rd May, 1956 and that was before the petitioner presented his application under Article 226 of the Constitution. The, relief asked for then was a writ of prohibition. It was only in January, 1957, that the petitioner asked for the issue of a writ of certiorari and he pleaded then that it was only in December, 1956, that he came to know of the issue of the license on 3rd May, 1956. I have already pointed out that that cannot be true, though on the material on record it may not be possible to fix with any degree of precision the date on which the petitioner actually learnt that a license had already been issued to the third respondent. It cannot however be said in the circumstances of this case that the petitioner obtained a rule nisi on a representation, which, on the date he made it, he did not believe to be true. That the petitioner obtained an amendment of the prayer in his application on the basis of a representation, the truth of which has not been established, may not by itself in the circumstances of this case disentitle the petitioner to the relief that is permissible.
22. The next contention of the learned Counsel for the third respondent was based on the averments in paragraph 2 of the counter-affidavit of the Government:
Further the Government have also decided that the licences under the Madras Rice Mills Licensing Order, 1955, should be issued as a special case, to such of the new ricemills, where buildings for installation were already constructed and machinery erected or purchased and kept ready for erection and issued instructions to the effect in January, 1956. The rice mill of the third respondent herein came under this category. The Governtnent after a full consideration of all the facts and circumstances passed orders directing issue of a license to the third respondent herein.
23. The instructions issued by the Government in January, 1956, apparently fell within the scope of Rule 2(2) of the Madras Rice Mills Licensing Order, 1955, which vested in the State Government a power to issue general directions to licensing authorities. The learned Counsel for the third respondent urged that had the petitioner applied afresh to the licensing authority at any time after January, 1956, the Collector was bound to grant the license. The Collector actually granted the license on 3rd May, 1956. Even if the order of the Government, dated 23rd April, 1956, was one passed without jurisdiction, that need not in the circumstances of this case affect the issue of the license by the licensing authority on 3rd May, 1956. The further submission of the learned Counsel was that, as the third respondent was bound to get a license had he applied afresh after January, 1956 or even were he to apply afresh now the license issued on 3rd May, 1956, should be left intact, and if that could be left infect, there was nothing gained by setting aside only the order of the Government, dated 23rd April, 1956. Technically no doubt there was no fresh application after January, 1956. Rejection of the application preferred by the third respondent was on gth November, 1955 and the correctness of that could not be tested with reference to the instructions issued by the Government in January, 1956. To insist upon a fresh application after January, 1956, to cure the defect in the grant of a license to which the third respondent was entitled under the rules and the instructions issued by the Government under Rule 2(2) in January, 1956, would, in the circumstnaces of this case, savour of technicalities being allowed to prevail against the right to which the third respondent was entitled after January, 1956, to obtain a license. I am quite alive to the fact, that the jurisdiction of the Government to issue the order, dated 23rd April, 1956, is not a mere technicality. Still the question remains, should the license granted on 3rd May, 1956, be set aside? The rice mill has been working all these days, and the third respondent would certainly be entitled to obtain a fresh license even if the license granted on 3rd May, 1956, is set aside. In these circumstances I think the plea of the third respondent should be accepted, that I should exercise my discretion against confirming the rule nisi.
24. The rule is discharged and the petition is dismissed. No order as to costs.