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For many, promises are meant to be broken. But what if the head of a government made it? On Thursday, the Delhi high court held that assurance by Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal amounted to an “enforceable promise" and directed the state administration to work on its fulfilment. This was in response to a petition by five labourers and a landlord who wanted Kejriwal’s government held to the word given by him -- at a press conference on covid relief -- that it would pay rent on behalf of any poverty-stricken tenants who were unable to do so. Kejriwal had urged landlords to postpone rent collection from the hard-up. The court invoked the doctrine of “promissory estoppel", meaning that a party may recover dues on the basis of a promise if its reliance on it is reasonable.

Unless challenged at our apex court, this ruling could set a precedent for other cases of this kind elsewhere in the country. There are often gaps between what governments say is on offer for people and what they get, and the threat of legal action over unkept public commitments could perhaps make our leaders weigh their words more carefully now. People do rely on what they’re promised.

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