Himachal legislators, judges on collision course

Shimla, March 4 (IANS) The legislature and the judiciary in Himachal Pradesh seem to be on a collision course — literally.

Defending their ‘rights’, members in the 68-seat assembly earlier this week cut across party lines and came out strongly against the Himachal Pradesh High Court’s recent directives to the government.

There are two contentious issues — the first is against a February 27 high court order for removal of illegal encroachments by fruit growers on government land and to axe the trees while the second, of November 21 last year, prohibits the movement of vehicles, including those of legislators, on Shimla’s restricted roads.

In one voice and by thumping of their tables, the members — both of the ruling Congress and the opposition BJP — said the assembly was accountable to the people and the judiciary was encroaching on the legislature’s authority.

“I do not personally agree with the high court order to remove all encroachments,” said Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh on February 29 while agreeing with leader of opposition and two-time chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal.

“I want to say the orders are not in the interest of the poor (growers). We can’t equate the big farmers with the poor and for them (the latter) there should be different yardstick. We have to be sympathetic with the poor and marginal farmers,” he said.

In the same vein, the six-time chief minister said: “There is no question of any confrontation with the judiciary as the executive, legislature and the judiciary have their own jurisdiction.”

He also said that “efforts will be made to convince the court”.

The chief minister said the government was examining all aspects and, if found necessary, the government would bring legislation or amend the existing law to grant relief to the poor farmers.

Mincing no words, the octogenarian Virbhadra Singh assured the assembly that nobody could stop the state assembly from passing or amending any law.

“The government has to work within its jurisdiction and it’s a democratic elected government. It functions with the help and support of the Vidhan Sabha and the Vidhan Sabha is supreme,” said the chief minister.

Revenue Minister Kaul Singh said “our judiciary is transgressing the limits”.

To that, Speaker B.B.L. Butail, who was initially not convinced about holding a debate in the assembly on the ground that the matter was sub-judice, said: “So the government will take care as patron and take action in the interest of the people.”

Earlier, BJP member Mohinder Singh, who sought a debate on the issue of granting relief to those whose encroachments were being removed, said over 5,000 encroachments had been removed and a number of apple orchards axed.

Another BJP member Suresh Bhardwaj asked: “What is our rationale to be a member of this house when we can’t discuss anything? Every matter is in the court these days and they are sub-judice.”

At one point, Dhumal said: “If the government or legislature keeps on shirking from its duties in the name of judiciary, then the judiciary will be more assertive.”

A day later after this debate, the legislators again showed solidarity on March 1 by hitting out at the high court over the vehicle ban in the capital.

Calling for making “the judiciary accountable too”, the members said the judges of the high court were not above the constitution and “can’t take arbitrary decisions”.

Their assertions came in connection with the high court’s November 21 order that stayed vehicle permits issued by the state government for sealed roads or restricted roads in Shimla.

The chief minister assured the house that the government would not compromise with the prestige of the legislators and would ensure that their “respect and dignity is maintained”.

Speaker Butail, whose vehicle was also fined after the high court directive, blamed the state home department for the mess as it had misinterpreted the high court order.

The issue was raised in the assembly by BJP first-time member Hans Raj before Question Hour.

Congress member Sanjay Rattan said the judiciary was challenging the legislature, which was “unjust”.

Quoting a high court order, he said: “The chief secretary is directed to ensure that no vehicle attached to the honorable judges is unnecessarily stopped or challaned.”

At this Speaker, Butail said: “We got the vehicle permits to use the sealed roads as per the act passed by us. The high court judgment is extra jurisdictional.”

Seeking to pacify the members, the chief minister said: “There will be no compromise with the prestige, honour and privilege of the MLAs. I can guarantee that your vehicle will be allowed to pass.”

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