An Ahmedabad hall widely used by civil rights organisations has been made out of bounds by Gujarat Governor O P Kohli for “any political activity or any activity against the government”.
A kabulatnama or written undertaking that there will be no such activity has been made mandatory for anyone who wishes to book the Mehdi Nawaz Jung Hall, named after the first Governor of Gujarat. This follows an “oral decision” by Governor Kohli.
The Mehdi Nawaz Jung Hall has been the venue of several meetings, including those on the 2002 riots, screening of films on the riots, and where the riot-hit have spoken out.
More recently, the hall hosted organisations which backed Teesta Setalvad, the social activist booked by police for alleged embezzlement of funds meant for riot victims, and others critical of the Centre’s crackdown on NGOs.
The hall is part of the Himavan complex which is administered by a board of trustees of the Governor’s Social Welfare Fund. The Governor is one of the trustees and chairman of the board.
Responding to an application filed by The Indian Express under the Right to Information Act, Raj Bhavan said the decision on a kabulatnama was taken on May 26, 2015 — a day after expelled AAP leader Yogendra Yadav was denied entry to the hall despite a booking by organisers of a meeting. Yadav then held a meeting with workers outside the hall.
In its reply, the Governor’s Office said: “Since the persons who approach the management of Mehdi Nawaz Jung Hall, Paldi, Ahmedabad for booking the hall are orally instructed to give their kabulatnama to the effect that they will not use the hall for any political activity or any activity against the government, the hall is not given on rent to any party which refuses to give a signed kabulatnama.”
“The hall is currently booked for carrying out educational, social, humanitarian and cultural activities,” the reply stated.
The Indian Express had also sought minutes of the meeting in which such a decision was taken. To this, Raj Bhavan said: “Meetings were not held and no notings were made while taking this decision, so the question of giving copies thereof does not arise.”
Gautam Thaker, general secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) in Gujarat, who is also administrator of the hall, said he had not been informed about the decision.
“I have not been intimated about the decision. I handle issues like salaries of the staff of the hall etc. The booking part is being handled by a watchman who is also performing the role of a manager,” he said.
Thaker criticised the insistence on a written undertaking. “I think it is a move to stifle the voice of dissent. It is an attempt to suppress the freedom of speech and expression of civil society,” he said.