Chandigarh administration’s justifications of continuing with the disturbed area tag since 1986 failed to find favour with the Punjab and Haryana high court which quashed the relevant notifications issued in 1986 and 1991, on Wednesday, stating that there was even worst condition of other state capitals but they were not declared as disturbed area.
The division bench comprising acting chief justice Jasbir Singh and justice Rakesh Kumar Jain said that now the “situation has improved” and the authorities had “no right to give draconian powers to armed/security forces” which they were enjoying on the name of “disturbed area”.
The bench observed that in 1980s-90s, during the militancy period, “the situation was dangerous in Punjab” when the powers of Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 were made operational but the state withdrew the notification finally in July 2008. Whereas, Chandigarh had not followed the suit though the notifications under challenge were issued due to Punjab’s affect on Chandigarh.
“The tag is a blot on the city beautiful,” said the bench, adding that it would reduce the foreign tourist inflow as they “may be afraid knowing that city is a disturbed area”.
Surinder Bhardwaj, president of Chandigarh Territorial Janta Dal (United), had petitioned that while issuing notifications dated December 2, 1986 and further extending it on December 5, 1991, Administrator of UT Chandigarh had declared it as a disturbed area due to the terrorist activities in eighties and nineties. Inspite of the fact that full peace had since long been restored in Punjab as well as Chandigarh, UT Administration’s notifications of declaring
Chandigarh as disturbed area were still in operation.
Finding that there was “no proper justification in UT’s reply and why notification was kept intact”, the bench said that the administration has apprised the court that “authority can’t lower its guard because of intelligence inputs” about threat but brought “no specific instance to our notice.”
Chandigarh’s senior standing counsel Sanjay Kaushal, during the arguments, informed the court that it was within the executive domain of administration to take a decision on the disturbed area tag and also no special privileges, funds and housing facilities were being extended to UT’s officers because of the disturbed area status. Kaushal further added that the petition was nothing but a “publicity interest litigation to sensationalise”.
Also, replying to the court’s query, the Punjab government submitted that it had for the first time issued notification on November 18, 1986 regarding disturbed area for whole of Punjab for six months period upto May 17, 1987. Thereafter, on March 9, 1989 notification was issued just for three districts namely Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Ferozepur, which was also ultimately withdrawn on July 28, 2008.