After Tongue Lashing, Bombay High Court Rejects Team Anna Petition

Mumbai, Dec 23: In a setback to Team Anna, the Bombay High Court today rejected its petition for direction to Maharashtra government for allotting MMRDA ground for free or at concessional rates for Anna Hazare's
after tongue lashing bombay high court rejects...
PTI December 23, 2011 23:00 IST

Mumbai, Dec 23: In a setback to Team Anna, the Bombay High Court today rejected its petition for direction to Maharashtra government for allotting MMRDA ground for free or at concessional rates for Anna Hazare's fast, saying it cannot come to the conclusion if the agitation was in public interest or politically motivated.

The court also said it cannot direct the government to open the gates to the enclosed area in Azad Maidan, another probable venue for the proposed 3-day fast from December 27, to allow Team Anna larger space for the protest. 

“We are afraid that such issues cannot be decided by the court. This court cannot come to the conclusion as to whether this agitation is in public interest or politically motivated,” a division bench of Justices P B Majmudar and Mridula Bhatkar observed while rejecting the petition filed by Jagrut Nagrik Manch, an affiliate of Hazare's India Against Corruption.

“It cannot be said that the petitioners have undertaken a national event for the MMRDA to exempt them from rent for the ground,” Justice Majmudar said. 

The court said another ground for rejecting the plea was that the petitioner was not a registered social organisation, a mandatory requirement for seeking concession from MMRDA.

When Mahendra Ghelani, advocate for the petitioner, told the court that they would file another application to MMRDA through a registered organisation, the court said they could do that and the state-run body shall consider it on merit and according to their discretion.

The state government had earlier informed the court that the deputy director of Sports and Youth Welfare Services department had refused to open the gates to the enclosed area in Azad Maidan as it would ruin the 22 pitches on the ground. 

Earlier in the day, Team Anna came in for scathing criticism by the court for its proposed agitation against the Lokpal Bill with the bench saying it cannot allow “parallel canvassing” when Parliament is seized with debate on the legislation.

“We can't allow parallel canvassing when Parliament is seized with debate on the bill. You can propagate the bill sitting at home. Till now the bill has not been passed. No one knows what form and what features it will have. Is public debate permissible at this stage?,” the court asked. 

Disapproving of the agitation despite the Lokpal Bill being tabled in Parliament, Justice Majmudar asked, “How is country's interest involved? We are a democratic set up. We have elected a government. Wouldn't your agitation interfere in the functioning of Parliament? The bill will be debated in Parliament where our elected representatives will plead our case”.

The court further said that as Judges they had taken an oath to uphold the Constitution and law. “Under which law are you (petitioner) asking for exemption? It might be Satyagraha for you but for some other factions it might be a nuisance,” it said.

Coming down heavily on Team Anna's agitation, the Bombay High Court said it can't allow “parallel canvassing” when Parliament is seized with debate on Lokpal Bill and questioned its decision to seek exemption from charges to use MMRDA grounds for Anna Hazare's proposed fast. 

The court refused to interfere in the matter, saying it cannot ask government authorities (MMRDA) to grant them exemption.

“It is not judicable. If we pass an order allowing your petition then even we will be interfering with the functioning of Parliament,” a division bench of justices P B Majmudar and Mridula Bhatkar observed.

“We can't allow parallel canvassing when Parliament is seized with debate on the bill. You can propagate the bill sitting at home. Till now the bill has not been passed. No one knows what form and what features it will have. Is public debate permissible at this stage?,” the court asked. 

Disapproving of the agitation despite the Lokpal Bill being tabled in Parliament, Justice Majmudar asked, “How is country's interest involved? We are a democratic set up. We have elected a government. Wouldn't your agitation interfere in the functioning of Parliament? The bill will be debated in Parliament where our elected representatives will plead our case”.

The court further said that as Judges they have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution and law. “Under which law are you (petitioner) asking for exemption? It might be Satyagraha for you but for some other factions it might be a nuisance,” it said.

The bench, however, asked Maharashtra government to inform whether it was ready to open the gates at Azad Maidan, the second option available for holding the fast from December 27, to allow Team Anna to have access to a larger area. 

When the counsel for the petitioner informed the court that they have got permission for holding the fast in Delhi's Ramlila Maidan, the court said, ”If Ramlila Ground is available, why don't you hold fast there.” Counsels for the petitioner informed the court that the Azad Maidan ground, which is being given for free, cannot be used due to space constraints.

Following this, the court asked the government pleader to take instructions from the Chief Minister or any other official on whether the gates to an extended area on the ground could be opened to provide more space and inform the court at 3 PM. “The court will then pass an appropriate order,” the judges said.

The court, however, observed that it cannot direct MMRDA or any other government authority to grant exemption.  Counsel for MMRDA told the court that the petitioner is not a registered organisation and the MMRDA cannot include them in the category of “social organisation” and give concession.

The petitioner has to make a security deposit of Rs eight lakh and Rs 11 lakh as rent to use the MMRDA ground.

Under the category of social organisation, the petitioner will have to pay Rs six lakh, he said.

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