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Don't fret, change the law

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October 15, 2003 13:03 IST

The city of Kolkata never fails to spring surprises.

About a fortnight ago, the Calcutta high court ordered a ban on processions and rallies within the city from eight in the morning to eight in the evening on all weekdays.

If processions or rallies have to be held in the city, they must be organised on holidays or on Sundays, ordered the court.

That itself was a surprise. Why should you require the high court to ensure that road traffic is not disturbed because of processions and rallies? That's the basic responsibility of the civic administration.

But the court had to intervene because processions and rallies in Kolkata are held almost every day, blocking many of the city's main roads and creating avoidable traffic jams. According to one estimate, Kolkata witnessed 551 rallies and processions between January and September this year.

The real surprise came a day after the high court order. While the ordinary people in the city welcomed the high court order and heaved a big sigh of relief, the ruling Left Front leaders made no secret of their unhappiness.

One of them termed the court order as 'undesirable' and even announced that the Left parties would continue to hold rallies and processions in the city even in violation of the court order. Indeed, a rally was planned by the Left parties last week.

But just a day before the date of the rally, the Left parties were persuaded to follow the court order. The rally was held, but it kept off the roads. Thus, there was no traffic disruption. The people of Kolkata were relieved, but only for a couple of days.

Early this week, the Left Front government moved the high court and got a stay on the earlier order banning rallies and processions on the streets of Kolkata.

But even before the new order could be enforced, the city of Kolkata witnessed a massive procession held by nine different organisations affiliated to Left parties in Bengal.

Traffic movement in large parts of Kolkata on Monday came to a halt. The point to be noted in this is not just how members of the ruling parties in Bengal are showing scant regard to orders issued by the high court.

Even the state government is completely oblivious of its basic responsibility to maintain smooth traffic flow in the city.

Worse, when the high court is forced to issue an order to ban such rallies, the state government decides to appeal against that order.

And when the appeal is heard, a new bench of the high court stays the earlier order and advises the government to frame appropriate laws that would ensure that traffic is not disrupted when rallies are held in the city.

This is not an isolated instance. For the last few years, courts in this country have been issuing orders to set right the many wrongs that continue to be committed by the administrators.

The Supreme Court had to intervene to enforce the implementation of strict norms for controlling vehicular pollution in different cities.

Again, the courts had to ensure that garbage removal in the Capital takes place in the normal course. The courts again had to set deadlines for relocation of polluting industries outside the city of Delhi.

Just as in Kolkata, some political parties in Delhi also tried to protest against the courts' orders on relocation of polluting industries and even the compulsory use of the environment-friendly compressed natural gas for all commercial vehicles and buses in the Capital.

Fortunately, these protests did not carry much conviction with the people and petered out. The state government of Delhi also did not file an appeal against the orders.

That certainly helped. Because, judiciary, it must be conceded, is also part of the system.

When a government goes in for appeal against a court order, members of the judge cannot but take due notice of it, particularly when they see that the executive is unhappy with an order and is facing difficulty in enforcing its acceptance by the political parties. This is what might have happened in Kolkata.

The Vajpayee government at the Centre should perhaps take a lesson or two from what happened in Kolkata. If the courts pass an order that upsets the government's plans, it is better to re-examine what went wrong.

If necessary, the government should consider changing its strategy so that it is in conformity with what the courts say. If not, it should consider going in for a proper appeal.

Not what it is doing right now in response to the Supreme Court's recent order stalling the divestment of government equity in HPCL. There is no need for it to seek clarification on the order in an indirect way -- almost through the backdoor. Nor is it necessary to go to another extreme -- by hiving off Indian Oil Corporation's marketing wing into a separate company and then pushing for its sale.

All this reflects the executive's failure to appreciate the role of judiciary in our country.

Judiciary is very much a part of the democratic system we have put in place. The executive must learn to live with it.

If it is upset with one of its orders, it has the option of getting the law changed. The courts will have no problem with that.

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A K Bhattacharya