Taking leaders to court will deter bandhs: Ex-Manipur Chief Secretary

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New Delhi : Slapping court cases against those who organise bandhs to recover the losses suffered by the economy can help keep such shutdowns in check, says former Manipur Chief Secretary Jarnail Singh.

In his soon-to-be-released book "My Tryst with Manipur: A Memoir" (Konark Publishers), Jarnail Singh says his experience of working in Manipur showed that governments would find it difficult to file a case against bandh organisers to recover economic losses.

"The political leadership would, more often than not, negotiate rather than incur the wrath of a group or community by going for a court case," says the author, who later went on to work in the Prime Minister's Office.

"In such a situation, it could perhaps be best if some public spirited individual or individuals file a case or cases in the High Court and force the organisers of bandhs or economic blockades to compensate for the loss.

"In such a case, of course, the state government could also be made a party to the case."

During his posting in Manipur, Jarnail Singh realised that the state had been experiencing an unending number of bandhs and blockades called by different organisations or Joint Action Committees.

Such shutdowns caused inconvenience to the public and disrupted local commerce and trade. The worst hit were wage earners and petty traders. But there was no concerted organised effort to discourage such blockades.

After then Manipur Governor S.S. Sidhu detailed statistics regarding bandhs in Manipur, Jarnail Singh decided to take the initiative to discourage this culture.

The IAS officer thought it would be best to calculate the financial loss suffered by the society and initiate legal cases to recover the money from the leaders of the groups calling and enforcing the shutdowns.

He said that there were bandhs for 80 days in 2004-05, for 145 days in 2005-06 and for 119 days in 2006-07.

The loss per day in 2004-05 was Rs 5.34 crore, going up to Rs 6.13 crore per day in 2005-06 and further to Rs 6.88 crore each day in 2006-07.

The loss per day on account of blockades of National Highways ranged from Rs 2.32 crore to Rs 3.01 crore during this period.

All this meant, Jarnail Singh says in his book, that the total economic loss suffered by Manipur from April 1, 2004 to March 31, 2007 was a whopping Rs 1,319 crore.

But when Jarnail Singh prepared a note for the government suggesting legal battles against bandh organisers, senior ministers were against taking a confrontationist approach.

The informal view in the government was to publicise the economic losses due to bandhs and blockades and appeal for sanity.

"At that stage, I lost interest. I felt disheartened. We had not worked for six months just to appeal. I was sure that those who call bandhs and blockades would not bother about government appeals.

"But the filing of case for recovery of loss would have permanently deterred the persons who indulge in economic blackmail and enforce bandhs and blockades," he says.