Bombay HC decries parallel Team Anna campaign

Mumbai: Coming down heavily on Team Anna`s agitation, the Bombay High Court today 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.

The court was hearing a petition filed by Jagrut Nagrik Manch, affiliated to Anna Hazare`s India Against Corruption, seeking direction to government to allot the MMRDA ground in suburban Bandra-Kurla Complex either for free or at a concessional rate.

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.