Bombay HC fumes over arbitrary takeover of open land for EVM godown

The plot in Pune is a Metro Eco Park, a designated open space and part of the compensatory plantation for the railway

Electronic voting machines (EVMs) in a strongroom after polling (photo: National Herald archives)
Electronic voting machines (EVMs) in a strongroom after polling (photo: National Herald archives)


The Bombay High Court on Thursday, 9 May, expressed its displeasure over the proposed usage of a plot of land in Pune reserved as open space to construct a godown to store EVMs (electronic voting machines) and VVPAT (voter verifiable paper audit trail) machines.

A division bench of Chief Justice Devendra Kumar Upadhyaya and Justice Arif Doctor said what concerned it was not the change of use of the plot, but the manner in which it was being done by district authorities, without following any procedure mandated in law, sending a wrong signal in the process.

"We understand conducting elections is an overwhelming public purpose in our democracy, but even for this law should be followed," CJ Upadhyaya observed, adding, "What else is lawlessness if we permit this."

A Pune resident, Prashant Raul, filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the High Court, against the proposal to use the Metro Eco Park at Ravet in the western Maharashtra city for a godown to store EVMs and VVPAT machines.

Raul's advocate Ronita Bhattacharya told the bench that the site was reserved as a recreational space for citizens and around 600 plants and trees have been planted there as part of compensatory plantation for the Pune Metro project.

As per the petition, in February, a letter was sent by the Maharashtra government to the district collector for usage of the open space and an adjacent plot (both belonging to the Pune Metropolitan Regional Development Authority) to construct a godown here.

The adjacent plot was already reserved for government purposes. The district collector then took possession of the two plots and began construction activity.

The high court, however, queried how possession of the land was taken without following any procedure:

"How was it done? Is there any law which permits such a requisition without compensation?" CJ Upadhyaya asked.

"What concerns us is not the change of use (of the plot) but the manner in which it is being done. It sends a wrong signal. A layman may think 'Oh, this is an important thing for elections', but no!" the chief justice said.

The court also enquired whether the authorities plan to leave any open space for citizens or just make a concrete jungle of the locality.

Senior counsel Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, appearing for the district collector, told the court the godown was being constructed on the plot reserved for government purposes.

"We are not going to construct anything on the plot reserved as an open space and we are not going to fell any tree in that open space," Kumbhakoni assured the court.

The bench accepted the statement and posted the matter for further hearing on 18 June, directing all respondents to file their affidavits by then.

Meanwhile, polling for the Pune Lok Sabha seat will be held on 13 May.

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