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Tata Motors Limited vs. The Brihan Mumbai Electric Supply and Transport Undertaking (BEST) and Ors. - (Supreme Court) (19 May 2023)

If the decision relating to award of contract is bona fide and is in public interest, courts will not interfere



The only question that falls for consideration is whether the High Court after upholding the disqualification of TATA Motors from the Tender was justified in undertaking further exercise to ascertain whether EVEY also stood disqualified and that BEST in its discretion may undertake a fresh tender process?

It is not in dispute that, the first and the foremost requirement of the Tender was the prescribed operating range of the single decker buses which would operate for around and average of 200 Kms in a single charge in “actual conditions” with 80% SoC without any interruption. Then materials on record would indicate that the TATA Motors in its bid deviated from this requirement and had informed BEST that it could carry the operating range in the “standard test conditions” which was not in accordance with the Tender conditions. The High Court has rightly observed in its impugned judgment that the bid of the TATA Motors failed to comply with the said clause. TATA Motors deviated from the material and the essential term of the Tender.

However, High Court having once declared TATA Motors as “non-responsive” and having stood disqualified from the Tender process should not have entered into the fray of investigating into the decision of BEST to declare EVEY as the eligible bidder. Present Court is saying so because the High Court was not exercising its writ jurisdiction in public interest. The High Court looked into a petition filed by a party trying to assert its own rights.

Ordinarily, a writ court should refrain itself from imposing its decision over the decision of the employer as to whether or not to accept the bid of a tenderer unless something very gross or palpable is pointed out. The court ordinarily should not interfere in matters relating to tender or contract. To set at naught the entire tender process at the stage when the contract is well underway, would not be in public interest. Initiating a fresh tender process at this stage may consume lot of time and also loss to the public exchequer to the tune of crores of rupees.

In Jagdish Mandal v. State of Orissa and Ors., present Court observed that, while invoking power of judicial review in matters as to tenders or award of contracts, certain special features should be borne in mind that evaluations of tenders and awarding of contracts are essentially commercial functions and principles of equity and natural justice stay at a distance in such matters. If the decision relating to award of contract is bona fide and is in public interest, courts will not interfere by exercising powers of judicial review, even if a procedural aberration or error in assessment or prejudice to a tenderer, is made out. Power of judicial review will not be invoked to protect private interest at the cost of public interest, or to decide contractual disputes.

Present Court has set aside that part of the judgment and order passed by the High Court by which the decision of BEST to accept the tender of EVEY was set aside and it was left to the discretion of BEST to undertake a fresh tender process. The Appeal filed by TATA Motors accordingly fails and is hereby dismissed.


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