Ralegan Siddhi/Mumbai, Dec 23: Anna Hazare today braced himself up for a three-day fast in Mumbai from December 27, forced to cough up about Rs seven lakh as rental for the MMRDA ground after Bombay High Court rejected a petition seeking free or discounted rates for the venue.
74-year-old Hazare, who will undertake the fast to protest against a “weak” Lokpal bill, said he will organise the rental amount through donations from people whose background will be checked.
Team Anna got the rough end of the stick from Bombay High Court when a two-member Bench asked, “under which law are you (petitioner) asking for exemption. It might be satyagraha for you but for some other faction it might be a nuisance.”
Justices P B Majumdar and Mridula Bhatkar said the court cannot direct the government to open the gates to the enclosed area in Azad Maidan, another venue Team Anna had planned for the proposed fast.
In the wake of strictures from the court, Hazare said it was wrong on the part od supporters to approach the court seeking concession for the venue. If they had sought his opinion, he would not have allowed them to seek judicial intervention, he said.
After the authorities rejected permision to use the ground free because India Against Corruption was not a registered organisation, Team Anna would be seeking permission in the name of one of the registered NGOs. The concessional rate would be around Rs seven lakh for three days against the full rate of over Rs 11 lakh.
“MMRDA will give some concessions and the ground hire cost will be Rs 7 lakh. The donations will be accepted only by cheque and draft. We will also keep tab on the donors,” Hazare said in Ralegan Siddhi.
He said his close aides Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi will join him in his fast in Mumbai while another group of activists will go on hunger strike in Delhi in support for a strong Lokpal bill.
The Court came down heavily on Team Anna's agitation plans on Lokpal Bill, saying it can't allow “parallel canvassing” when Parliament is debating the issue, observing that what may be a “satyagraha” for the group could be a “nuisance” for others.
The two-member bench said it cannot ask government authorities (MMRDA) to grant exemption to Jagrut Nagrik Manch, affiliated to Hazare's India Against Corruption. The court also said it cannot come to the conclusion if the agitation was in public interest or politically motivated.
“We can't allow parallel canvassing when Parliament is seized with debate on the bill. You can propagate the bill sitting at home. Till now the bill has not been passed. No one knows what form and what features it will have. Is public debate permissible at this stage?,” the court asked.
Disapproving of the agitation despite the Lokpal Bill being tabled in Parliament, Justice Majmudar asked, “How is country's interest involved? We are a democratic set up. We have elected a government. Wouldn't your agitation interfere in the functioning of Parliament? The bill will be debated in Parliament where our elected representatives will plead our case”.
When the counsel for the petitioner informed the court that they have got permission for holding the fast in Delhi's Ramlila Maidan, the court said, “If Ramlila Ground is available, why don't you hold fast there.”
“We are afraid that such issues cannot be decided by the court. This court cannot come to the conclusion as to whether this agitation is in public interest or politically motivated,” it observed.
“It cannot be said that the petitioners have undertaken a national event for the MMRDA to exempt them from rent for the ground,” Justice Majmudar said.
“It(the petition) is not judicable. If we pass an order allowing your petition then even we will be interfering with the functioning of Parliament,” the court further said.
The court said another ground for rejecting the plea was that the petitioner was not a registered social organisation, a mandatory requirement for seeking concession from MMRDA.
When Mahendra Ghelani, advocate for the petitioner, told the court that they would file another application to MMRDA through a registered organisation, the court said they could do that and the state-run body shall consider it on merit and according to their discretion.
The state government had earlier informed the court that the deputy director of Sports and Youth Welfare Services department had refused to open the gates to the enclosed area in Azad Maidan as it would ruin the 22 pitches on the ground.
The court had asked Maharashtra government to inform whether it was ready to open the gates at Azad Maidan, the second option available for Hazare to hold the fast.