Court ticks off Team Anna

Court ticks off Team Anna

Terms fast parallel canvassing; says it could be nuisance for public

Court ticks off Team Anna

In a setback to Team Anna’s agitation plans on Lokpal bill, the Bombay High Court on Friday strongly chastised the India Against Corruption (IAC) for carrying out “parallel canvassing” when Parliament was debating the issue.

The court also asked the IAC not to indulge in actions which might be considered “a nuisance” by some.

The court was hearing a petition filed by IAC-affiliate Jagrut Nagrik Manch seeking either opening up of the entire Azad Maidan or concession for using MMRDA Ground for the proposed three-day hunger-strike by anti-graft crusader Anna Hazare on December 27 for a strong Lokpal bill. However, the activists later managed to get the ground at low rates. In the packed court room, the Division Bench comprising Justices P B Majmudar and Mridula Bhatkar coldly cut in through the opening remarks of the petitioner, stating: “We just cannot comprehend or conclude whether this agitation is in public interest or is politically motivated. How can a court decide such an issue?”

The court made it clear that it would not allow any kind of “parallel canvassing when the entire Parliament is debating the legislation.”

Without giving any leeway to Mahendra Ghelani, the petitioner’s advocate, the court questioned the rationale behind the motive of holding the fast or rally, stating: “Till now, the bill has not been passed. No one knows what form or what features it will have. Is public debate permissible at this stage? If we pass an order allowing your petition then we will be interfering with Parliament’s functioning.”

Sharp rebuke

Justice Majmudar took the argument further and admonished the petitioner. “How is country’s interest involved? We are a democratic set-up and we have elected a government... Wouldn’t your agitation interfere with Parliament’s functioning? We have our elected representatives in Parliament who will debate and plead our case.

“Moreover, we as judges have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution and law... and you are asking an exemption for which there is no clause... it might be satyagraha for you but for other factions it might be a nuisance... You can propagate the bill sitting at home.”

The Bench then rejected the first plea that sought the opening of Azad Maidan gates of the enclosure marked for protesters. The deputy director of Maharashtra Sports and Youth Welfare Department in his submission clarified that it would ruin 22 cricket pitches located inside the maidan. To this, advocate Ghelani told the court that they were granted permission for holding a fast at Ramlila Maidan. The court quipped: “If Ramlila Ground is available then why don’t you hold fast there?”

The court thereafter took up the second plea seeking exemption or reduction of steep rent charges (Rs 19 lakh) of MMRDA Ground at Bandra-Kurla Complex, with a terse statement: “We cannot interfere in this matter. Neither can we direct the authorities to grant you exemption since the organising outfit is not a registered NGO.” Mahendra Ghelani replied that the organisers would then file another application to MMRDA through a registered social organisation.    Following the setback at the court, IAC officials late on Friday filed a fresh application to MMRDA through a Delhi (NCR)-based NGO, Public Cause Research Foundation (PCRF), of which Arvind Kejriwal is one of the trustees, and got sanction along with Rs 4 lakh concession for five days starting December 26. At Ralegan Siddhi, anti-graft crusader Anna Hazare who is in the eye of the storm, admitted to the local media after the announcement of the court’s verdict: “It was wrong on the part of IAC to move the court.”