Monday, May 13, 2013

HC will hear irrigation scam PILs : Blow To Maha Govt’s Bid To Escape Scrutiny

Nagpur: The Nagpur bench of Bombay HC on Wednesday struck a blow to the government’s attempt to escape legal scrutiny of the alleged irrigation scam by rejecting the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation’s (VIDC) plea that two PILs in the matter were not maintainable. A bench of justices Bhushan Dharmadhikari and Arun Chaudhari ruled that technical lapses in public interest matters could not lead to outright rejection of the petition. The petitioners — Jan Manch and social workers including Mohan Karemore, Amit Khot and Bharti Dabhadkar — had alleged massive corruption and mismanagement in all irrigation projects in Vidarbha, including Gosikhurd, while demanding a judicial or CBI probe into the matter.

VIDC, through senior counsel V R Manohar, raised two contentions as preliminary objections to maintainability of PILs. He also questioned the very basis of the petitioners’ demand for a CBI enquiry, arguing it was not as per mandamus. It stressed that the petitioners should have made a representation to the government and only on its rejection could they have moved the court. He had also contended that the petitioners should have lodged a formal police or a private complaint before demanding a CBI enquiry.

VIDC’s prayers were opposed by the petitioners’ counsel Anil Kilor and Srikant Khandalkar who argued that procedural safeguards could not be allowed to defeat substantive public rights and the PIL offerred an opportunity to make amends.

They stated that mere ordering of enquiry may not always influence the investigating agencies. “In appropriate cases, even in the face of such prayers, the court may mould relief and pass suitable orders,” they stated.

Citing various SC and HC verdicts, the judges observed there was a need to adopt a non-traditional approach in matters where fundamental rights or issues fundamental to success of democracy were at stake.

“When PILs themselves are not adversarial, the insistence by public-oriented bodies like respondents for its dismissal at threshold and not permitting the court to even to look into alleged wrongdoings is not easy to understand,” they observed.

They added that instead of technicalities, the respondents could have welcomed the notice of the court, treated it as sufficient demand and made proper statements on merits to drive away petitioners’ apprehensions. “Respondents insistence upon technicalities is unsustainable. They have not cared to point out prejudice caused to it due to their absence,” the justices stated in their 42-page order.

Flaying the chief secretary for not following governor’s orders, the judges stated that latter had instructed him to review compliances of his current and earlier directives to address policy issues.

“Documents show directions issued by the governor on May 27, 2005, and March 13, 2012, have not been fulfilled or looked properly. Material prima facie shows indifference or omission by the state even to comply with the directives issued by the governor. We are not concluding this controversy on merits at this stage as respondents have not addressed us on this aspect,” they observed adding that the chief secretary failed to submit report about discrepancies in the figures of unspent balance of rest of Maharashtra (RoM) development boards.

The respondents were asked to file their respective replies on merits of controversy in both PILs within four weeks.

Respondents’ insistence on technicalities is unsustainable
All technical lapses in public interest matters cannot lead to its outright rejection
Merely because CBI inquiry is suggested as one of the options, PILs can’t be dismissed
We failed to understand as to why the respondents are taking it as adversarial PILs
We find no merit in preliminary objections raised by VIDC, same are thus rejected

Respondents asked to file replies on merits of controversy in both PILs
They are told to file individual replies within four weeks
Next date of hearing fixed on June 19 after court vacations
PILs could be shifted to principal bench in Mumbai for clubbing
Or Wategaonkar’s PIL would be shifted to Nagpur bench for same purpose
Vaibhav Ganjapure TNN

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