| Business as usual on Russel Street during the Naxalite bandh. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
Calcutta, Nov. 22: A crusade was declared today against bandhs in Calcutta High Court.
'We are determined to end this bandh culture,' the special bench set up to hear all bandh-related cases announced, calling political parties' practice of bringing life to a halt to register protest a 'social evil'.
'This anti-nation game cannot be allowed to continue. Our bench will not hesitate to take up matters relating to bandhs,' Justices Pratap Roy and Jyotirmoy Bhattacharya said.
They were hearing a petition challenging the bandh the Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI) had called on November 17.
The judges' declaration came on a day a Naxalite group had called a bandh ' like the SUCI ' against the recent petroleum price increase, but received almost no response.
An opinion poll done for The Telegraph has shown that a majority of Calcuttans feel the oil and gas price rise is an important issue, but calling a bandh is not the solution.
The court asked SUCI's lawyers to file an affidavit, vowing that the party is ready to obey the order of the Supreme Court by not calling any more bandhs. 'It is a simple question, please let us know whether your party leaders will be restrained from calling bandhs or not,' the judges said.
By December 10, the party has to file the affidavit.
Another bandh is coming up before then, called by Mamata Banerjee's Trinamul, which enjoys far greater support than either the SUCI or the Naxalite group. Observers believe December 3 will be the day the judiciary's, as well as the administration's, resolve to foil bandhs will be tested.
Some lawyers pointed out in court that Mamata had also called a bandh. The court asked them to file an application. 'We are ready to hear your problems. The division bench will sit immediately after your petitions come to us as assigned matters,' the judges said.
Idris Ali and Sreemoyee Mitra, lawyers for the All India Minority Forum, the organisation that had moved court against SUCI's bandh, told the court that they had filed a separate petition challenging Trinamul Congress' December 3 bandh.
'Please mention the matter. We will sit and hear your case,' the judges said.
Once the petition comes up, Mamata might be required to file an affidavit similar to the one sought from the SUCI.
In the affidavit, the SUCI is expected to argue that it did not apply force to impose a bandh on the people and, therefore, did not violate the Supreme Court order. The Supreme Court had banned enforced bandhs. At the same time, it had said coercion is implied in the words 'bandh' and 'hartal'.
There were train disruptions on November 17, which could be seen as coercion.
'Forty per cent of the total population of this country ' slum and footpath dwellers who are mainly daily wage earners ' suffer on days of bandhs. We cannot play the role of a mute spectator towards this social evil,' the judges said.
The next hearing is scheduled for December 17.