A P.I.L., came to be heard by the Bench between May 2013 and September 2013. The Hon’ble High Court has ordered that not only ordinary citizens be allowed to enter and observe Cantonment Board Meetings, but, also that a large television screen be fitted outside the Meeting Hall, where hundreds of other citizens could also hear and see the proceedings.
Two public spirited citizens of Belgaum – Dr. Nitin Khot and Dr. Siddharth Pujari then filed the P.I.L. (No. 16085) before the Chief Justices Bench of the Karnataka High Court when the public was denied permission from entering the Cantonment board meetings.
At the 2nd March 2013 meeting of the Cantonment Board a resolution was passed refusing admission of the public to Board Meetings on the grounds that if the public were allowed to enter the Cantonment Boardroom “they would be sitting too close to the Board Members “ (! !) They gave five other equally unbelievable reasons to keep the public out of Cantonment Board Meetings – despite the Cantonment Act being clear on this score.
Why a PIL was need:
For about two years now, people in Belgaum have been shocked and caught unawares, by decisions taken behind closed doors in secret meetings of the Belgaum Cantonment Board.
For instance, in January 2012 no one knew why the Cantonment Board decided to charge “toll” or “octroi” (or “licence fee” as it was termed) on commercial vehicles just passing through Cantonment “territory” . Eight P.I.L’s were filed to stop this dangerous and unethical practice. The wheels of justice had to be activated to stop what would have been a curse to all the vehicles in Belgaum for all time to come.
The Cantonment Board then cleared a proposal to measure up for “resumption”, 16 ancient bungalows behind St. Paul’s for formation of a ‘Training Area’, when all the citizens of Belgaum can see that the present ‘Training Area’ is nothing but a ‘Golf Course’ for Army Officers, who play golf with rich civilian men and women.
The residents of Cantonment had several meetings and decided to press for admission to Cantonment Board Meetings since this was expressly provided for in Section 42 of Cantonments Act 2006 which states “Every Meeting of a Board shall be open to the public, unless, in any case, the person presiding over the Meeting, for reasons to be recorded in the Minutes, otherwise directs.”
The Cantonment Executive Officer Mr. Neeraj Jain absolutely refused to allow any civilian other than the elected Cantonment Board Members to enter the Meeting Hall. Several registered Associations in Belgaum requested the Board’s compliance with the law. Members of the Press also requested the CEO to respect the law.
The C.E.O., who does not hesitate to throw Section after Section of the Cantonments Act 2006 at any resident who repairs his leaky roof or rebuilds a crumbling mud wall built 150 years ago, actually refused to obey a Section of the very same Act !
The public had to wait outside the Cantonment Board Office when the Board Meetings were in progress and the only concession made was to allow media persons to photograph the Members of the Board !
This is a victory for common sense and for civil society against an unreasonable bureaucracy that has got accustomed to secret discussions behind closed doors. It is also a victory for the law of this land.
P.I.L.s are not filed for frivolous reasons.
It is expected that the ‘Belgaum Cantonment’ Judgement will be extended to all Cantonments in India.
A new page in the history of Cantonments opened on 2nd September 2013 – here in Belgaum.