Thursday, July 03, 2008

Ensure Sikkim is not cut off from mainland: Supreme Court

July 3rd, 2008 - 8:12 pm ICT by IANS

New Delhi, July 3 (IANS) The Supreme Court Thursday asked the central and the West Bengal governments to ensure free traffic on the sole road linking Sikkim to the country’s mainland during the stir for Gorkhaland, which may be resumed July 6. A bench of Justice Altmas Kabir and Justice G.S. Singhvi also sternly told various outfits spearheading the separate Gorkhaland stir not to disrupt the traffic on National Highway 31A linking Sikkim and Darjeeling.

The bench’s directions came after a hearing of two lawsuits that seek restoration of vehicular traffic on National Highway 31, disrupted since June 14 due to the Gorkhaland agitation in West Bengal. Presently suspended, the stir is likely to resume July 6.

The bench also castigated the governments for invariably forgetting their “constitutional obligations” during various agitations and often becoming tacit supporters or silent spectators of hardships caused to the masses during such stirs.

As Additional Solicitors General P.P. Malhotra and Amarjit Singh, appearing for the central government, wanted the court to issue some specific directions to authorities to ensure free traffic on the road, the bench criticised them for their pleas.

“Do you (the government) need courts’ directions to implement law and order and protect the lives and property of citizens?” it asked. “And when the courts issue such directions, you complain that the we are stepping on to your toes.”

“The governments forget their constitutional obligations and become a party to such illegal agitations,” it observed, citing the example of a recent stir in Mumbai against north Indian migrants.

“When the question of taking actions comes, the governments maintain that they are looking into the matter and stern action will be taken against those found guilty, but nothing happens eventually,” the bench remarked.

“Every time an agitation takes place, authorities turn a blind eye. Nobody can be allowed to hold the country to ransom,” the coyurt observed.

“What’s happening in this country? Can anybody rule it by muscle power?”

The bench was hearing two lawsuits, filed by advocate O.P Bhandari and the Sikkim government, in the wake of the Gorkhaland agitation when the entire stretch of the national highway in West Bengal was blocked, cutting Sikkim off from the mainland of the country. The two lawsuits demanded restoration of traffic on the highway.

The two pleas said due to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM)-sponsored shutdown from June 14, the traffic on the entire stretch of NH 31A has come to a grinding halt.

The lawsuits pointed out that NH 31A was the only national highway connecting Sikkim with the rest of the country and people of Sikkim and thousands of tourists were stranded due to the blockade.

The blockade had led to scarcity of essential commodities and medicines in the northeastern state, they pointed out.