The road to justice is indeed long.
R. Maheswari (30), an illiterate woman eking out a living by grinding flour in a tiny village in the backward Dharmapuri district, had to make an arduous 300-km train journey in an unreserved compartment for it.
And the enterprising woman managed to find her way to a relatively lesser known tribunal in Chennai, represent her own case and convince the presiding officers that a vicious relative had dragged her to court on a frivolous charge.
Ms. Maheswari, a resident of Bosinaikkanhalli, a nondescript village near Pappireddipatti, was shell-shocked on receiving a notice from a court in Chennai. The illiterate woman learnt through others that the National Green Tribunal, Southern Bench, had sent her summons in a case filed by her neighbour. His charge was that Maheswari was running a flour mill that caused noise pollution. Even though she had never visited the city before, she decided to travel to Chennai to put forth her arguments.
Buses were not operating in her area as a fallout of the ongoing PMK protests. She walked with her husband to the nearest railway station at Morappur. The difficulty of boarding the crowded compartment and travelling the whole night standing did not deter her.
After reaching the Tribunal, Maheswari came to know that her neighbour B.V. Senthil had approached it to get her mill closed. The mill, her main source of livelihood, emitted dust and noise, causing irritation to the public, said the complainant.
Having patiently waited in the court hall until her case was called, Maheswari went near the podium and explained with moist eyes to the Tribunal members, Justice M. Chockalingam and Prof. R. Nagendran, that the petitioner was her disgruntled brother-in-law. She had only recently come to know that her husband’s elder brother had filed the case. The brothers had a personal dispute and the pollution case was aimed at settling scores.
Ms. Maheswari said, “after getting assistance from State government, I am running the unit to grind flour and other items with just three hours of electricity supply in the village. I earn about Rs.150 a day to support my husband.” The Tribunal members went through an official report which said that she was running a “mini unit” for grinding flour and other items. “It is quite evident that the petitioner has come with a false claim with thoroughly unfounded allegations. He made an attempt to purchase his brother property. As he failed to achieve the objective, he filed this application.”
Dismissing the application, the Tribunal on Tuesday imposed Rs.5,000 as cost on the petitioner payable to Ms. Maheswari within four weeks.