AFTER A day-long legal tussle over Shiromani Akali Dal’s rally scheduled in Faridkot on Sunday, the Punjab and Haryana High Court late Saturday evening gave the party the green signal but with restrictions on certain routes leading to the rally site after Punjab government cited intelligence inputs against the rally and challenged the decision of a single-judge bench which ex-parte had allowed the Akalis to hold the rally.
According to the order and agreement between the two parties, “The route from Bajakhana to Kotkapura via Bargari has been shut down and the alternate route is from Bajakhana to Kotkapura via Jaito, provided people taking the alternative route would be allowed to access the main highway Kotkapura to Faridkot and also old road/route from Kotkapura to Faridkot may be shut down and alternate route should be provided i.e new/main highway from Kotkapura to Faridkot.”
With the Congress government on Friday denying Akalis the permission to hold the rally, the issue had reached the court on Friday itself with SAD seeking an urgent hearing. Late Friday night, the case was ordered to be listed before the single-judge bench of Justice Rakesh Kumar Jain.
When it came up for hearing Saturday morning, senior advocate Ashok Aggarwal, who represented the SAD, said that the executive order had no sanction of law and violated the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression. Agarwal also argued that ‘Pol Khol Rally’ was a series of public meetings held by the party, which had been successfully held previously without any agitation or objection.
The order declining the permission had cited three reasons: SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal had faced public anger during his visit to Chand Palace Faridkot on September 5, Sikh Jathebandies sitting on dharna at Bargadi for days over the sacrilege issue and Agman Purab of Baba Shekh Farid being celebrated in the district due to which anti-social elements may enter the district.
However, Aggarwal argued that all Sukhbir Badal’s visits had been successful and the dharna was being sponsored by the government. He also submitted that Sparks fly in day-long hearings in HC, SAD gets nod for Faridkot rally
30,000 to 40,000 people were expected to attend their Sunday rally.
Justice Jain, at the end of Aggarwal’s submissions, expressed surprise that no one had appeared on behalf of the State and ordered a stay on the government order against the rally. A notice of motion was also issued to the State for Monday, which was fixed as next date of hearing.
“Meaning hereby, the petitioner would be entitled to hold the rally on the date, time and place as mentioned hereinabove. The State machinery is further directed to make sufficient police arrangements so that any untoward incident may not happen,” Justice Jain said in the order.
However, the government challenged the decision in the afternoon and the matter reached a division bench, which was constituted on orders from the Chief Justice. The government had to face the ire of the division bench during the hearing of its own appeal for its non-representation before the single-judge bench who had passed the ex-parte order in favour of the Akalis.
In the appeal, Punjab’s Advocate General Atul Nanda argued that the single-judge bench virtually allowed the whole petition of SAD without hearing the State and the decision to disallow the rally had been taken on the basis of inputs from central government agencies which indicated that the rally could lead to law and order situation in Faridkot.
However, the division bench of Justices Ajay Kumar Mittal and Arun Palli scoffed at the State for not appearing before the single-judge bench in the first instance in view of the gravity of matter.
Nanda argued it was a non-working day and no notice had been issued to State. “When a small order is not complied with, AG is summoned,” he said, adding that the case involved a grave matter for which the State should have been called.
However, the division bench again pulled up the State and asked Nanda to explain why the district administration had waited till September 14 afternoon to decide Akali Dal’s application when it was filed in Faridkot on September 10. In defence, Nanda said that intelligence inputs were pouring in till last day.
The division bench also said that the order declining the permission was “very cryptic” and didn’t mention anything about the intelligence inputs. Nanda also presented a sealed cover report on the intelligence inputs on the Faridkot rally before the division bench. However, it was not opened by the judges.
“If at all the State wanted to express something, the State should have been there. Had you been present, you would have brought to the court’s notice the intelligence inputs. In all urgency, you ought to have moved before the single bench,” the division bench observed.
Amid heated arguments between the division bench and Nanda, the bench asked Nanda to move an appropriate application before the single-judge bench for vacation of stay and gave it time till 6:30 pm to do it.
The government filed the application by 06:30 pm in the registry. Heated arguments were witnessed in the court of Justice Jain when the application seeking vacation or modification of the previous order cam up for hearing at 7:15 pm.
Justice Jain said the State had been playing “hide and seek” with the court and were watching the proceedings from outside the courtroom when they knew everything about the case from the newspaper reports. “In ordinary matters, you are always there,” the bench observed. “You people were watching from outside”.
Nanda in response submitted that the government did not have any formal notice regarding the case and also took exception to the court’s ire. “My Lord is getting angry. There is nothing between me and you,” Nanda said, adding that court should not address him as “You People”.
The hearing was soon adjourned as the Akali Dal’s counsels were not present in the courtroom. When the hearing resumed around 8 pm, the State suggested to the court that since the rally had been allowed, the government should be allowed to regulate the routes.
Nanda placed the intelligence report before the court and said it included inputs from the central government agencies indicating that the rally could lead to bloodshed in the district. He suggested that the Akali supporters should not take the Bargari route as Sikh Jatebandhies are holding dharnas there for past many days and are against the rally.
While a confusion prevailed for much of the time during the hearing over the routes, the government and Akali Dal counsel ultimately reached to an agreement on the routes after which Justice Jain ordered that both the parties have come to a solution and disposed of the government application.
SAD patron and former CM Parkash Singh Badal Saturday night described the HC ruling it as “a victory of the Khalsa Panth over the anti-Sikh Congress party and its paid lackeys”.
In a statement, Badal said the court verdict and the rally on Sunday will prove to be turning points in Punjab politics.