The Bombay High Court has said Anna Hazare and his activists have no right to seek a discounted rate for the city’s MMRDA Ground as a venue for their three-day protest, which starts on Tuesday.
“The court cannot decide whether the agitation is in public and national interest or politically motivated,” said the two judges hearing the case. Anna said his representatives in Mumbai should not have gone to court. “I would have told them don’t go to court…we will manage on our own…court is not the right place to bring this up. And if they don’t give us any venue, I will fast in jail,” he said this evening in his hometown of Ralegan Siddhi.
Team Anna was originally told it would have to pay close to 18 lakh rupees for the venue. His aides had asked the court to intervene, and instruct the government to offer them the venue either at no cost, or at a special rate. That petition was rejected. His aides will now seek formal permission using an organization that’s not officially registered as a trust. This meant they could not get the special rate offered to protests for “social causes.”
A new application will be made that will slot the protest in that category. Anna said today that he will ask those who support him to make donations. “MMRDA Ground officials originally said the venue would cost us 18 lakhs…I said we can’t spend that much money. Now I am told it will be seven lakhs and people say they will donate. We will not accept cash. A cheque or draft is fine,” said Anna.
Anna’s protest camp will be headlined by his hunger strike which starts on December 27, as Parliament debates the new anti-corruption Lokpal Bill which he has diagnosed as toothless and “a betrayal of the people.”
“If we pass an order allowing your petition then even we will be interfering with the functioning of Parliament,” said the judges. “Is public debate permissible at this stage? Under which law are you (petitioner) asking for exemption? It might be satyagraha for you but for some other factions it might be a nuisance,” they said.
Amid reports that the Delhi Police has granted permission to use the capital’s Ramlila Grounds, the Bombay High Court asked why Anna doesn’t move his protest there. “Delhi is not an option because of the cold weather and you have to respect his (Hazare) age of 74. Not only Anna but there would be many others who would fast with him and people will stay back,” said his close aide, activist Kiran Bedi.
Anna’s aides had earlier said they would not pay huge rates for the MMRDA Ground because they are opposed to “a five-star movement.” But their Plan B – Azad Maidan – which the government offers for all public protests, was ruled out today because it cannot accommodate the sort of crowds that Anna is likely to draw. The Maharashtra government refused a request to let the protest spread into a part of Azad Maidan that’s usually reserved for sports events and tournaments. The court refused to over-rule the government.
This is Anna’s fourth hunger strike this year to galvanize public support for a strong new law that will help disinfect government officials and departments from graft. His fast will segue into a civil disobedience or Jail-bharo movement. Then, he says, he will campaign against the Congress in the five states including Uttar Pradesh that are headed for elections. “The people will show the government,” he said. “The national elections are only two years away. We will continue the campaign against anyone who does not support a strong Lokpal bill.”
His 12-day protest and fast in August, and the support that encompassed it and lifted it into an international headline, left the government winded. Parliament agreed to consider three guiding principles laid out by Anna for the Lokpal Bill, which will create a new national ombudsman of nine members to investigate charges of corruption against government servants. This month, Anna said that if Parliament does not pass an effective bill during this session, he will hold a fast, a jail bharo agitation, and campaign against the Congress in states headed to elections.
While maintaining that Anna’s deadline had no bearing on its decision, the government led the initiative to extend this Parliament session by three days to debate the Bill and vote on it. Yesterday, when the bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha, politicians seemed hostile to Anna’s diktat.
One after another, they urged the government not to let Anna hold the legislative process to ransom. The supremacy of Parliament cannot be questioned, they asserted. “Tell Anna not to fast and look after his health”, said Bihar’s Lalu Prasad Yadav in a speech that was unsparing of the activist. Gurudas Dasgupta of the CPI added, “There is no single crusader against corruption. Please don’t be afraid of another hunger strike.”