The Bombay High Court on Thursday refused to grant interim relief in a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by four senior citizens, including retired IPS officer Julio Ribeiro, which challenged the October 11, 2021 bandh in Maharashtra called by the then three ruling parties which were part of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government.
The PIL had said the bandh – called by NCP, Congress and Shiv Sena to express their solidarity with the farmers’ protest over the now repealed agricultural laws and against the October 3 violence in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri district — caused a loss of nearly Rs 3,000 crore to the public exchequer. It sought that the bandh be declared ‘illegal and unconstitutional’.
The division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Abhay Ahuja noted that there were “no exceptional circumstances” to pass an interim order granting relief to the petitioner at this stage and said the same would amount to granting final relief related to compensation. The court referred to police records and noted that it was evident that the bandh call had been given by the MVA and constituents of the alliance — Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress — have stayed away from the proceedings till date in court despite them being made respondents in the case.
The bench then directed the respondents to file their affidavits in reply to the plea by January 9, followed by the rejoinder of the petitioners by January 18.
The bench directed the state government and its police department to inform it as to what steps were taken in compliance of directions issued by the High Court in the BG Deshmukh case to avoid the bandh of 2021.
In 2004, the HC had penalised the Shiv Sena and BJP for forcing a shutdown in Mumbai in July 2003 following the Ghatkopar blasts. The HC had made it mandatory for police to serve a notice on political parties calling for the bandh, inform them about its illegality
and to take criminal action against those enforcing the strike, among other steps. It noted that since the 2004 verdict was not challenged by the state government, the same had attained finality and should be implemented.
Earlier this year, the Maharashtra Home department and Mumbai Police, in their affidavits, had told the HC that no decision was taken by the state Cabinet to support a state-wide bandh of November 2021,
and the state government cannot be held liable for losses claimed by petitioners.
Additional Government Pleader Jyoti Chavan, representing the state government, said that it had taken steps to ensure that the law and order situation was maintained and provided additional bandobast through Police Riot Control Units, among other steps.
However, senior advocate Ramesh Soni, appearing for the petitioners, claimed that there was no connection between violence in UP and bandh in Maharashtra, and the bandh was organised by political parties and compensation
should be ordered for losses suffered due to the same as a deterrent measure.
The bench orally remarked, “Do the lawyers not strike? A judicial order will not solve this… As part of the judiciary, we cannot give moral lessons to the state government…There is a general trend in this country that people don’t do anything but after retirement … What did he do when he (petitioner) was in office? We won’t pass futile orders. Those orders will never be implemented, then again you will file a contempt plea,” the bench remarked. It added that it could not quantify the damages mentioned in the PIL and could only ascertain as to whether the rights were trampled upon.
The bench refused to grant interim relief to the petitioners and posted the matter for further hearing to January 25, 2023.