The deserted Ghoom railway station on the second day of the janata curfew. Picture by Suman Tamang
Calcutta, Aug. 14: Calcutta High Court today came down heavily on the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha for paralysing normal life in the Darjeeling hills and called the janata curfew “illegal”.
“A curfew is a mechanism of the bandh. Since bandhs are illegal, this curfew is also illegal,” the division bench of Chief Justice A.K. Mishra and Justice Joymalya Bagchi said.
The division bench told the state government to prepare a list of public and private properties damaged during the recent phase of the agitation launched by the Morcha and submit it in court by September 3.
The court also directed the Morcha to file an affidavit on September 5 stating why it should not pay compensation for damage to private and public properties inflicted by its supporters.
“The Morcha is directed to file an affidavit on September 5, stating why this court should not ask it to pay compensation for damaging private and public properties,” the order said.
The division bench asked the Morcha to clarify why contempt proceedings should not be brought against it for not allowing the state to maintain peace and normality in the hills.
In Darjeeling, Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri said: “We respect the high court order and at the moment we have not yet received the order. Once we go through the order we will explore all legal possibilities.”
Asked whether they would file a special revision petition in the Supreme Court, Giri said: “The possibility of going to the Supreme Court is also there but it will be decided by our legal cell.”
“Why is your client not allowing essential commodities, food and medicines to enter the hills? How will the poor people of Darjeeling survive? Does your client think that the poor people of the hills are animals?” Justice Mishra asked the Morcha’s lawyer, Amitava Basu, during the hearing.
The chief justice also said: “We have already said that bandhs are illegal. What is going on in Darjeeling? The agitators are saying that to honour the court’s order they have withdrawn the bandh and are observing a curfew. This is bad. In the name of curfew everything has been stalled. At this point, the court cannot be a mere spectator.”
The chief justice continued: “This order is for those who have called the bandh. They will have to allow the state to restore normalcy in the hills. We do not want any further obstruction in the name of bandhs or curfews.”
The Morcha’s lawyer then told the court that his client was not observing a bandh in the hills. “The common people are observing a curfew spontaneously,” he said. “If they do not come out of their houses, what can my client do?”
Chief Justice Mishra replied: “We know everything. Does your client really want the good of the hill people? If they did so, they would never have deprived them from living peacefully.”
Basu said: “My client has tried its best to maintain peace in Darjeeling and had called an all-party meeting. At this meeting, representatives of the BJP, the Shiv Sena and even a section of the Trinamul Congress were present.”
The BJP had sent a representative to the August 12 all-party meeting, but not Trinamul.
Government pleader Ashok Banerjee opposed the argument. “Nothing has been done to keep the hills normal. They are only trying to gather support of other parties.”
On August 7, when a PIL was moved by advocate Ramaprasad Sarkar against the bandh in the hills, the court had directed the state government to take all possible steps to maintain peace in the three hill sub-divisions of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong and file a status report today.
When the case came up for hearing today, Banerjee placed the report in a sealed cover.
Without going through the report, Justice Mishra asked whether schools were open in the hills and whether buses were plying.
Banerjee replied in the negative, saying that neither were schools open, nor were buses plying. “We have tried to restore normality, but the agitators have prevented us from doing so,” he told the court.
Giri said: “The janata curfew is the outrage of the people against the government for deploying central forces to scuttle our movement. This is a spontaneous reaction of the public.”
The Morcha had appealed to the hill people to observe janata curfew on August 13 and 14, which was supported by eight political and apolitical outfits. Giri said the party was not involved in incidents of arson and destroying government properties.