The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Court slaps penalty for bandh

Mumbai, July 23: For the first time ever, a court of law has penalised political parties for holding a bandh.

Bombay High Court today fined the Shiv Sena and the BJP Rs 20 lakh each for a bandh they called last year to protest against a series of blasts in the city.

In its unprecedented judgment, the court critically commented upon the “ramifications” of a bandh by way of the economic loss inflicted on people and severely reprimanded the two parties.

Justices A.P. Shah and S.U. Kamdar said the Sena and the BJP had to own up responsibility and pay Rs 40 lakh as “compensation” for causing public loss. The court said the compensation would go into a fund that would be spent on toning up public utility services.

On July 30 last year, the day the bandh had been called, Mumbai shut itself reluctantly. Children played cricket in the courtyards and company executives discarded their ties. Though there were whispers that a bandh would not help nab the terrorists who bombed the city, no one protested.

Even the Congress-led Democratic Front government kept quiet, sensing that if they got in the way of the bandh it might be construed as unpatriotic. The immediate trigger for the bandh was a blast in Ghatkopar that killed four and injured about 50. More bomb explosions had taken place before that.

A group of people, some non-government organisations and individuals decided not to remain mute spectators and filed a public interest litigation against the two political parties.

“We sat down and thought that we had to protest against this senseless form of protest,” said theatre personality and ad guru Alyque Padamsee, a signatory to the PIL that led to the judgment today.

After the court order, Padamsee said: “Since the executive seems to be paralysed in this country, I am glad that the courts are acting. In fact, I recommend all concerned citizens to file a class action PIL whenever they feel injustice is being done.”

James John, an activist with Agni, the NGO that was a party to the PIL, said the powerful had to be taught some lessons in democracy. “We should not let any political party ride roughshod over the interests of the public it actually promises to protect.”

There were others who lent their names to the protest — theatre personality and social activist Gerson da Cunha and former top bureaucrat B.G. Deshmukh.

The PIL said the city lost an estimated Rs 50 crore because of the bandh that had been forced on the people. It also pointed out that the strike went against a Supreme Court judgment that prohibited enforced bandhs.

Rattled by the court order, the Sena said the bandh had been spontaneous and no one had enforced it. Spokesman Subhash Desai said the Sena also contended that “in a democracy, industrial and political actions do result in disruption of services causing inconvenience to people. But the Supreme Court has held that only if a bandh is forced on the people will it be violative of the fundamental rights enshrined in Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution. In this case, the bandh was rather spontaneous.”

Hinting that it was the right action to take in the circumstances, the Sena said the bandh was called to protest the “cowardly act of the terrorists who had killed innocent people and tried to create a rift between Hindus and Muslims”.

It added that a good reason for the strike was to draw the attention of the Maharashtra government to its dismal failure in dealing with terrorism.

Padamsee got in the last word: “The executive should execute or be executed.”

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