The Punjab and Haryana high court on Wednesday said the issue of ‘conflict of interest’ in case of the ruling Badal family in Punjab in the transport sector could be dealt with separately and not with the suo motu proceedings the high court had initiated following the Moga molestation incident involving a bus owned by the Badal family.
The division bench of justices SK Mittal and MS Chauhan, during the resumed hearing, verbally observed that the proceedings in this petition be confined to the cause of the bus accident, adequacy of compensation, if any, paid to the family of the victim, and the ways and means to stop recurrence of such accidents; and the issue of conflict of interest could be dealt with separately through a public interest litigation.
The high court was hearing the suo motu proceedings in the Moga incident, wherein a girl had been killed after she and her mother were thrown out of the moving bus owned by Orbit Aviation of the Badals.
The case was listed for hearing before the bench for the first time after the change in the judges’ roster effected last month. As the hearing began, the HC bench sought details of the compensation given to the family and was “satisfied” after state advocate general Ashok Aggarwal said Rs 5.55 lakh had been paid by the state and Rs 24 lakh by Orbit Aviation through the local Red Cross Society.
However, the amicus curiae in the case, advocates RS Bains and HC Arora questioned as to how a private firm had given compensation through a society and also raised the issue of ‘conflict of interest’ of the Badal family in this case as the bus belonged to them. “Was this given to silence the victim family? It needed to be examined,” they pointed out, further arguing that there had been two incidents involving big private bus operators in recent past wherein the offenders involved in accidents were not booked.
To this, the AG intervened saying a commission of inquiry had been set through a notification of May 14 into the incident by the government. However, the amicus curiae pointed out that the conflict of interest was the core issue in this case. “Nobody stops them (buses owned by Badals). They are running the government… here the deputy CM himself owns a larger number of shares in private transport companies which have to compete with governmentowned transport undertakings,” they said.
However, the court said it was a “larger issue” and needed to be debated separately. “If a separate PIL is filed, we will debate the issue. They have business interests and are in public life (too). Let it be debated in court,” the bench said, adjourning the matter for further hearing to October 7 and allowing advocate HC Arora to be relieved as amicus curiae to file a PIL on the issue of conflict of interest, on his request.