A five-judge bench of the Supreme Court Thursday held, in response to a Presidential Reference, that auction was not the only method of allocating natural resources. The main opinion was given by Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justice D.K. Jain, Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Ranjan Gogoi. Justice J.S. Khehar gave a separate but concurring judgment.
Here are highlights of the main opinion.
– This Court cannot conduct a comparative study of the various methods of distribution of natural resources and suggest the most efficacious mode, if there is one universal efficacious method in the first place. It respects the mandate and wisdom of the executive for such matters.
– The methodology pertaining to disposal of natural resources is clearly an economic policy. It entails intricate economic choices and the Court lacks the necessary expertise to make them. As has been repeatedly said, it cannot, and shall not, be the endeavour of this Court to evaluate the efficacy of auction vis-a-vis other methods of disposal of natural resources.
–The Court cannot mandate one method to be followed in all facts and circumstances. Therefore, auction, an economic choice of disposal of natural resources, is not a constitutional mandate. We may, however, hasten to add that the Court can test the legality and constitutionality of these methods.
– When questioned, the Courts are entitled to analyse the legal validity of different means of distribution and give a constitutional answer as to which methods are ultra vires and intra vires the provisions of the Constitution. Nevertheless, it cannot and will not compare which policy is fairer than the other, but, if a policy or law is patently unfair to the extent that it falls foul of the fairness requirement of Article 14 of the Constitution, the Court would not hesitate in striking it down.
– The market price, in economics, is an index of the value that a market prescribes to a good. However, this valuation is a function of several dynamic variables; it is a science and not a law.
– Auction is just one of the several price discovery mechanisms. Since multiple variables are involved in such valuations, auction or any other form of competitive bidding, cannot constitute even an economic mandate, much less a constitutional mandate.
– In our opinion, auction despite being a more preferable method of alienation/allotment of natural resources, cannot be held to be a constitutional requirement or limitation for alienation of all natural resources and therefore, every method other than auction cannot be struck down as ultra vires the constitutional mandate.
– Regard being had to the aforesaid precepts, we have opined that auction as a mode cannot be conferred the status of a constitutional principle. Alienation of natural resources is a policy decision, and the means adopted for the same are thus, executive prerogatives.
– However, when such a policy decision is not backed by a social or welfare purpose, and precious and scarce natural resources are alienated for commercial pursuits of profit maximizing private entrepreneurs, adoption of means other than those that are competitive and maximize revenue may be arbitrary and face the wrath of Article 14 of the Constitution.
– Hence, rather than prescribing or proscribing a method, we believe, a judicial scrutiny of methods of disposal of natural resources should depend on the facts and circumstances of each case, in consonance with the principles which we have culled out above. Failing which, the Court, in exercise of power of judicial review, shall term the executive action as arbitrary, unfair, unreasonable and capricious due to its antimony with Article 14 of the Constitution.
– In conclusion, our answer to the first set of five questions is that auctions are not the only permissible method for disposal of all natural resources across all sectors and in all circumstances.
– As regards the remaining questions, we feel that answer to these questions would have a direct bearing on the mode of alienation of Spectrum and therefore, in light of the statement by the learned Attorney General that the Government is not questioning the correctness of judgment in the 2G Case, we respectfully decline to answer these questions. The Presidential Reference is answered accordingly.