The Bombay High Court on Friday did not give any relief to Team Anna in hiring the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) ground on the Bandra-Kurla Complex here free of cost for Anna Hazare's three-day fast beginning on December 27 on the Lokpal issue.
The court also rejected Team Anna's plea for a directive to the State government to open all the gates of the Azad Maidan for the protest, saying it did not have the jurisdiction to do so.
Disposing of a petition filed by Jagrut Nagrik Manch and Praful Vora, an activist of India Against Corruption, a Division Bench of Justices P.B. Majmudar and Mridula Bhatkar said it could not consider the plea for allotment of the ground free of cost.
“This organisation is not even a registered institution [as a charitable trust],” the Bench said. The MMRDA said the petitioners' application could be considered only if they applied again in the name of a registered trust.
The petitioners wanted the court to direct the authorities to give the MMRDA ground free of cost for Mr. Hazare's protest.
The court said it could not even ask the government to open all the gates of an alternative venue at Azad Maidan.
The petitioners prayed that alternatively, the government be directed to open all the gates of Azad Maidan to accommodate more than 50,000 protesters. The Mumbai Police was willing to allot 1,200 metres of the ground for the protest, but the area was sufficient only for around 3,000 people.
Assistant Government Pleader Uma Palasule Desai said that since the rest of the area was managed by the Mumbai Cricket Association, if the permission was given, the protest would cause an irreparable damage to the 22 pitches there. She also showed a letter from the Deputy Director of Sports Authority, denying permission for allowing Team Anna to use the rest of the ground.
The court asked the petitioners why they changed the venue from the Ramlila Maidan in Delhi, where the protest was earlier held. Mahendra Ghelani, advocate for the petitioners, said Delhi was too cold, and the people of Mumbai also needed to get involved in the protest.
The court said it could not direct the public authorities to grant concession when a debate was going on in Parliament. “It is doubtful if it is a justifiable petition… When there is a constitutional debate going on in Parliament, we cannot encourage [the authorities] to give the Maidan to you free for parallel canvassing.”
“You can influence people even when the debate is going on [in Parliament], but you can't ask the court to interfere,” the Bench said, when the petitioners submitted that they, as citizens, had the right to educate other citizens.
When the court asked whether their argument was only about excessive rent being levied on them, the petitioners replied in the affirmative. “If 50,000 people are with you, Rs.11 lakh is not an issue for you,” it said.
The petitioners will have to pay roughly Rs.19 lakh to the MMRDA of which Rs.7,69,000 will be refundable. The MMRDA, which has already given permission for the allotment of the ground at commercial rates, told the court that it had to satisfy itself that the trust was a bona fide body. “Moreover, they don't even want concession. Their prayer is, they want the ground free of cost,” counsel for the MMRDA said. The application could be processed if they applied in the name of a registered organisation.
India Against Corruption volunteers said they would re-apply in the name of the Public Cause Research Foundation, a trust formed by Team Anna member Arvind Kejriwal.