Calcutta, Feb. 27: Calcutta High Court virtually surrendered before political parties today, expressing its inability to prevent forced shutdowns and dismissed two petitions against bandhs.
“We are helpless; we are mere spectators,” chief justice A.. Mathur observed, while dismissing the petitions by way of public interest litigation, urging the court to stop bandhs.
“We have the authority to pass orders but not the authority to implement them. Unless the realisation (that bandhs are bad for the health of the state) dawns on the political parties, there is nothing we can do. If people ignore the Supreme Court’s order, why will they listen to us'” the court said in obvious anguish.
The first of the two petitions was filed in court a few days before the bandh called by Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress on February 3, while the second was moved a week before the all-India strike called by the six Left trade unions, including the CPM-affiliated Citu, last Tuesday.
Both the petitions had cited the Supreme Court ruling of March 1998, which had banned all forced bandhs, strikes and hartals. While passing the order, the Supreme Court upheld a Kerala High Court ruling which had declared strikes illegal and observed that the right to work was a “fundamental one”.
The two petitions were admitted by the court and the date for the hearing was fixed for today. However, Justice Mathur, instead of listening to the pleas of the litigants, decided to dismiss both the cases promptly.
“It is futile to listen to these cases as even the government cannot do anything (about preventing strikes) unless there is consensus among all political parties,” he said.
“We had, on earlier occasions, given orders stating that strikes should not be observed. But nobody listened to us. So what is the point in giving any further order'”
The judge also observed that the cases were “infructuous”, as both the bandhs had anyway taken place and that the damage had already been done. “There is little the court can now do to rectify matters,” he said.
On two earlier occasions, similar cases had been filed in the high court. In June 2000, Justice Shyamal Sen, citing the Supreme Court order, had declared illegal a bandh called by the Trinamul Congress and had said that compensation would have to be paid to those affected by it, if there was a complaint about being stopped from going about life.
Appearing on behalf of the Trinamul Congress, Ajit Panja, had sought modifications to the order, saying that no one would be denied the right to work. The judge relented and the bandh went ahead, but many people were forcibly stopped from going to work. However, as no one moved court, the case died a natural death.
In another case in 2002, a petition was moved to prevent the SUCI from going ahead with its bandh. The petition was admitted, but Justice Ajay Nath Roy, who heard the case, dismissed it saying that the court would not give any order till such time as the court was empowered, and given the machinery, to execute its order.