Punjab and Haryana high court interventions in Chandigarh
“Let this be a new town, symbolic of freedom of India unfettered by the traditions of the past.” Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, had said this while outlining his vision for Chandigarh. Sixty-seven years on, the city is struggling with a governance deficit, forcing the Punjab and Haryana high court to intervene in civic matters, ranging from stray dogs, building bylaws, and the dry Sukhna to school fees, street vendors and the deteriorating law and order.
It is widely acknowledged that were it not for the worthy justices of the high court, the Chandigarh international airport would not have seen any foreign destination. In the past couple of years, not a month goes by when the courts don’t intervene to restore people’s faith in law and establish order. Unlike other cities where politicians call the shots, bureaucrats are at the helm in the UT. And with bureaucracy failing to discharge its functions, judicial interventions are becoming the new normal.
The first big example of judicial intervention here is arguably the 2009 suo motu notice on the rising pollution and depleting water in the Sukhna. Ever since, the court has been monitoring the administration’s efforts to save the lake. There is hardly any top official who has not been summoned in this case. In August 2016, dissatisfied with the administration efforts, justice Ajay Kumar Mittal and Justice Ramendra Jain even visited the catchment area. It is thanks to the court that the lake has received a new lease of life. The case, which is heard at least once a month if not more, has led to UT start work on a water treatment plant. It has also ensured that Haryana does not dump sewage water into the lake, and de-silting is a regular affair.
The HC has also been keeping an eagle eye on the growing traffic violations in the city. In April this year, it directed the Chandigarh police to take stringent action against violators. Later, the court took a suo motu notice of the misuse of cycle lanes by motorcyclists with Justice Amol Rattan Singh saying that “patrolling is zero” and the police must deploy more men to enforce traffic rules.
The court also made sure that UT schools run safe buses by ruling in April that they should not ply without a speed governor. Earlier, it had directed the schools to employ women attendants for the safety of students on board.
The court also came to the rescue of women riders when it initiated suo motu proceedings on the rising number of road fatalities involving women in December 2017. This led to the UT administration issuing a notification this July, making helmets mandatory for women excepting those with turbans.
Law and order
It was the high court that came to the rescue of residents when the city saw a spate of chain snatching incidents earlier this year. Taking a tough stand on a PIL filed in February, it summoned SSP Nilambari Jagdale a number of times. Thanks to the court, the Centre has initiated a process to make snatching a non-bailable offence and increase the jail term from three to 10 years. Recently, the court also came down heavily on bogus surety givers and directed the judicial officers to check the antecedents of those furnishing the sureties.
The court has also been infusing a dose of law and order into the city’s night life. It was following HC intervention in 2016 that strict guidelines were implemented for bars and clubs, and the operation hours of discotheques were cut short to midnight.
The international airport would not have been fully functional were it not for the HC. Taking cognisance of the PIL by the Mohali Industries Association in December 2017, which pointed out how the airport was short of the basics needed for international operations, Justice S S Saron hammered at officials, going to the extent of summoning the then aviation secretary until they delivered what was promised. Now, a new runway is being readied for wide-bodied aircraft and 24- hour operations are expected by March next year.
Government houses and crematorium
The worthy judges also took note of the poor condition of government accommodation and made the administration take corrective steps. This intervention took place following a plea by Chain Lal, a government employee, in 2017. Justice RN Raina sought details regarding the allotment system and upkeep etc following which he directed that both allotment and complaint system be made operational online.
On learning about the poor state of cremation grounds during this case, the court sought corrective action. It is due to the HC directive that the cremation ground in Sector 25 is being upgraded and another one is coming up in Industrial Area.
Fees, stray animals and more
The high court has also been very alive to the problem of stray dogs and cattle. Only last week, Justice Augustine George Masih called for sector-wise details of the stray dog population, along with the programme for their sterilisation in accordance with the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001.
Earlier, the court came to the rescue of parents burdened by the arbitrary hike in school fees. Acting on a PIL filed in 2017, the HC capped at 8% the annual fee hike by private schools of Chandigarh.
HC has also intervened in matters such as infrastructure in city hospitals, dengue prevention, drug menace, besides keeping a close watch on the working of homes for senior citizens, destitute children and women.
What they say
Officers don’t care about the law and precedent. They think they are the kings. They do what suits them. If anyone has a problem with it, he will go to the court at his own expense. The officers know they will not be held accountable. Unless personal accountability is fixed, I don’t see any solution.
Rajiv Atma Ram, senior advocate and former senior standing counsel, UT,
Judicial monitoring of good governance does raise issues of separation of powers. However, even most conservative judge will ultimately realise the necessity of such monitoring.
Anupam Gupta, senior advocate and former senior standing counsel,
It’s not that they are not working. Officers have their own constraints. For policy decisions, funds etc, they always have to look up to the ministries concerned at the Centre.
Sanjay Kaushal, former senior standing counsel and senior advocate
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