Varanasi Ghat PIL hearing in Allahabad High Court on 9 November 2013

On 8 November 2013,  the Allahabad High Court judge bench, comprising Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice Arun Tandon, heard the PIL filed by the Kautilya Society on the Varanasi Ghats. On this hearing, the VDA was supposed to submit a response to queries on the irregularities of the Darbhanga Palace, made in the Allahabad High Court Order of 9 October 2013. The Darbhanga Palace is included in a list of 57 buildings officially declared by VDA as illegal constructions in violation of the Government Order prohibiting new constructions within 200 metres of banks of the River Ganga. The VDA had also submitted this list to the Allahabad High Court in May 2008.

Darbhanga Palace in Varanasi – before demolition (2001), after new constructions (2013)

On the 8th November hearing, the VDA submitted an affidavit stating that the new four-floor building made in the rear portion of the Darbhanga Palace was an authorised construction. The VDA argued that the rehabilitation of the Darbhanga Palace was as per the map it had sanctioned in 1997 and 2005 and that no new construction had ever been made in the premises of this building. On the contrary, in the PIL hearing of 9th October 2013, the VDA had confirmed that the Darbhanga Palace owners had not complied with the conditions that were laid down in their order sanctioning the rehabilitation of the Palace building.

On the 8th November hearing, the owners of the Darbhanga Palace also submitted an affidavit. They requested that the PIL, filed by the Kautilya Society in 2005, be dismissed in view of the FIRs (criminal cases) that had been filed against the petitioners of the PIL, i.e. the Kautilya Society and Vrinda Dar (who defends the PIL in person). They argued that the criminal cases lodged against the Kautilya Society and Vrinda Dar demonstrated that (i) the PIL was filed in private interest rather than in public interest and (ii) the credibility of the organisation was under suspicion. In its order of 9th November 2013, Allahabad High Court gave the petitioner three weeks to respond to the affidavits submitted by the VDA and the owners of the Darbhanga Palace.

The next hearing of the PIL in the Allahabad High Court has been fixed for 18 December 2013.

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See the compete list of  the Orders by the Allahabad High Court on the Public Interest Litigation –  Year: 2005 –  Number 31229

The second FIR to Kautilya Society by Varanasi Authorities

In our post of the 11th of June we reported the story of  the first FIR filed against the Kautilya Society members.

Fearing that the Varanasi authorities would use the non-bailable sections quoted in the FIR to prevent me from appearing in the hearings of the Allahabad High Court hearing (or at least be sufficiently harassed to withdraw the PIL from the High Court) I reported the whole issue to the Varanasi Superintendent of Police and asked them to verify if there was any improper use of power by the VDA against her or the Kautilya Society.

Finally some response did come from the Varanasi Superintendent of Police. But it was not a response to the report of the Kautilya Society on misuse of power by VDA officers. And what was it? Another FIR!

“Punishment for cheating by personation”

The second FIR was lodged on the direct and explicit instructions of Mr. Ajay Kumar Mishra, Senior Superintendent of Varanasi Police, on indication by the Varanasi Divisional Commissioner, Mr. Chanchal Tiwari. It charged all 9 founders of Kautilya Society of non-bailable criminal offences like “cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property (IPC 420), forgery of valuable security (IPC 467),” etc. The allegations that have been made do not give specific instances of irregularities but make general accusations that the KS has many foreign members and that the KS receives funds from foreigners. Both facts are true, but neither of them is an offence. All KS activities are implemented as per its bylaws and as per the rules and regulations of the country.

The Times of India, in its article reported my statement, “since the filing of PIL we are being harassed in similar style as not only the local authorities but the entire machinery has been exposed on the issue of illegal construction in the prohibited zone. But we are prepared for it and under no circumstances will we withdraw the PIL” As in the case of the other FIR, Varanasi newspapers that were previously supporting the KS against the inefficient local administration have generally given ample resonance to the lodged FIRs without counter-checking the issue with the KS.

The KS is contesting the charges and believes that it is a blatant case of malicious institutional harassment and misuse of government power.

The main accusation is that Kautilya Society has foreign members in its Managing Committee. Sure, it is an NGO where foreigners are among its founding members as well as its current ordinary members. All foreigners who become members and sometimes also reside in the Kautilya Society premises are duly reported to the Local Police Office. The names and details of the Managing Committee members and the organisational activities have always been reported to the Registrar of Societies that has approved and renewed the official status of the organisation. The KS receives donations in Indian rupees from both Indian and Foreign members who avail of its services within the society premises and this is an activity within the bye laws of the Society, it is permitted under the FCRA (Foreign Currency Regulation Act 2010, Clause 2, Explanation 3) and it is regularly assessed and reported to the Income Tax Authorities through audited accounts.

In a written reply to the District Authorities, the KS stated that:

  • “We have always declared the organizational activities and regularly audited and declared the financial transactions to concerned offices. In fact, our Society was accorded renewal in 2008 on the basis of our regular functioning;
  • The Society has foreign members in accordance with its byelaws and the Memorandum of Association that is in accordance with the Indian Society Registration Act 1860 that permits foreigners to subscribe to the Memorandum of Association of a Society. The names and details of the members of Kautilya Society Managing Committee has always been shared with the concerned offices.
  • The names and details of all foreign members who consult our study and resource centre, visit, work with us or stay in our premises have always been declared to the Local Foreign Registration Office.
  • Our funds are always audited and submitted to the concerned offices. In a recent scrutiny conducted by the Income Tax Department of the Govt. of India, our financial details and accountancy were considered as per laws and clear.
  • Not only are our activities and documents regular but they have regularly been submitted to concerned authorities and received official approvals.

Also in this very FIR, the 9 founder members are accused, in a confused manner, of “forgery” because one of the members, Vrinda Dar, transferred part of her property to another member Pietro Cocco as an individual; a transfer that was done legally and registered with the property registration office as per the FEMA rules and regulations and with approval from Income Tax Authorities.”

When the KS management went to meet the Varanasi District Magistrate to object about the FIR, he was apologetic, saying that an FIR is not malicious and that it is just a necessary step taken by the Varanasi police after receiving many complaints from local people (on Facebook!). Perhaps it is true. But one can surely suspect malice because non-bailable charges in the FIR have been made on a very well known organization that has been a partner of the District Authorities for many years and with which, in the past five years, there has been a fierce, but until now honest, litigation in the Allahabad High Court.

And what is particularly inappropriate is the accusation of “Forgery for purpose of cheating” (469 of IPC) and “using as genuine a forged document” (471) concerning the authorisation by Indian authorities to carry out civil society activities in Varanasi, when in fact the authorisations have been given in writing by the Indian authorities themselves.

I thinks that both FIRs are basically forms of harassment and mental torture meant to discourage her from proceeding with the PIL. But she wants to continue and she wants the Varanasi people to be informed about what is happening. She has shared a Film-Camera.png video interview on YouTube icon block.png ⇒ the TVP channel.

On the facebook page of the Kautilya Society, she sent an appeal to all members and friends to share her message, and this article, as widely as possible so that she is not left alone in bearing harassment in return for demanding legality in Varanasi; and for trying to preserve as much as possible of the Varanasi heritage so that future generations can better understand the values of the Indian traditional culture.

The video has been widely shared by the social media, largely divided in support or opposition to the KS advocacy efforts. [45]

 

_________________

References

The reasons why I believe both the FIRs are malicious:

  • the Government Authorities say that they have acted on the basis of complaints they received from the public, but then they filed criminal charges against me before even contacting me or requesting me for clarifications on issues for which they are receiving such complaints. This is not the standard way of dealing with complaints. What was their haste in filing an FIR before asking questions?
  • In both the FIRs, I am accused of infringing norms of the Indian Penal Code that are not bailable (i.e. these sections of the Indian Penal Code that permit the police to arrest me without bail) but these are inconsistent with the allegations made in the FIRs. Even if we were accused of wrongdoings, these would come under the civil law, not under the Penal Code. Penal Code sections have been quoted in the FIRs without linking the alleged actions with the Indian Penal Code norms.
  • I am accused of carrying out illegal civil society related activities, while these have been regularly reported to the concerned Indian Authorities and for which I have received, in writing, required permissions and certifications. In the FIRs, I am accused by Authorities of forging documents that in fact are regular certifications provided by the competent authorities.

 

High Court denies Government the permission to construct on Assi Ghat in Varanasi

Assi Ghat - Varanasi 2001

Kautilya Society’s Public Interest Litigation for protecting the Ganga riverfront Ghats of Varanasi took a positive turn at the hearing yesterday, 29 July 2013, as the Allahabad High Court turned down the request of the Varanasi Municipal Corporation to make permanent structures on and around the Assi Ghat. See the Allahabad High Court Order of 29 July 2013

This appeal was made to the High Court as a follow up part of a recently sanctioned Government of India project to make jetties, toilets, shelters, big bathing platforms, parks, kiosks, parking area, greening, 9 metre wide and 635 metre long promenades, as part of an ambitious riverfront development plan on and around Assi Ghat in Varanasi.

Reminding the Varanasi Municipal Corporation and the state government about the Government Order prohibiting construction along the Ganga, Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice Arun Tandon questioned the added value and sustainability of large scale construction activity on the ghats on the Ganga riverfront Ghats in Varanasi and categorically denied all permission to build permanent structures on the ghats. The Hon’ble judges also expressed serious concern on government sanctioned plans and schemes that destroy heritage, pollute the River Ganga and completely ignore civil laws and Government Orders.

In its counter affidavit to the government’s appeal for permissions to make permanent structures on the riverfront Ghats, the Kautilya Society questioned the soundness of a development plan that followed a top-down approach and did not take into account the protection of the natural, architectural and cultural resource of this unique city of Varanasi and that promoted new construction without protecting, rehabilitating and strengthening existing structures and Ghats.

In response to an appeal by the Kautilya Society, the Hon’ble judges of the Allahabad High Court have asked the Varanasi Development Authority to speed up resolution on cases of illegal constructions that are pending in lower courts as well as to completely demolish the illegal structures that have only been partially demolished by them.

The next hearing of this Public Interest Litigation on 2 September 2013 is expected to include clarifications by the central and state governments on their ambitious plans on riverfront development.

VDA overdoes its duty to follow Allahabad High Court instructions asking to strengthen surveillance against illegal constructions in Varanasi

Is the Varanasi Development Authority overdoing its duty of following the Allahabad High Court instructions to strengthen its surveillance against illegal constructions in Varanasi?

We sure are glad to know that Varanasi Development Authority (VDA) is finally taking extreme care in preventing illegal constructions on the Ganga riverfront ghat heritage zone in Varanasi.

Maybe they’ve gone a bit too far this time round, by raiding a private building just for the possession of cement bags!

And maybe they have gone against the law once again, by forcing their way in a private building without written official authorisation.  Surely they did not seem to be acting in good faith by publicly condemning supposed “intentions” and by hastening to spread the news that the Kautilya Society supposedly “ran into troubles” for having “wrong intentions”.

Here are the facts for everyone to judge.

On 8th June 2013, a battalion of 5 VDA officers, including Mr. Satish Chandra Mishra, Joint Secretary of the Varanasi Development Authority (VDA), forced their way into the official premises of the Kautilya Society in Varanasi, in the absence of the building owner and without consigning to the caretaker or the staff any written documentation about who they were, what was the objective of their request to visit the building, and what was the authority they had in doing that.

The VDA “assault unit” forced their way in by harassing the hesitant staff, which had orders not to let anyone, who is not a member of the Society, enter in the building, which is residential accommodation for many member students, including girls.  One lady staff says that she was even manhandled. The Kautilya Society staff objected to this forced entry into the office premises, so VDA’s raiding platoon of five men called for the support of the police force to overcome the bold resistance of 1 Managing committee member, one lady cook and one lady manager. The VDA even called the police for lodging an FIR against one of the staff because he was not authorizing the visit without being given a written official instruction about who was permitted to visit and why.

Well! the VDA officers entered the building, they found evidence of what they thought was the “evidence of crime” of the Kautilya Society. Did they find secret documents?  No!  Illegal constructions? No!  They found only some cement bags and some piled Chunar stones!  Oh!  And that seemed to be enough to prove that the Kautilya Society had wrong intentions to build an unauthorized floor!

Happy with their “Great” finding, they went to the press and said out loud “the Kautilya Society runs into trouble and their employees obstruct the course of law!

That the VDA harasses the Kautilya Society is not a novelty, since they are under trial by the Allahabad High Court as part of a PIL lodged by the Kautilya Society against it.  (See below for other details about the progress of the PIL).

What is surprising is that newspapers as serious as the Times of India, which previously reported about the VDA inefficiency on protecting the heritage zone, immediately accepted without verification the VDA information, and went on to publish the news that “Kautilya Society runs into troubles”.

Did the journalists not think it strange that the VDA, that has not been following the orders of Allahabad court to demolish those unauthorized illegal constructions on the Ganga riverfront ghats in Varanasi that the VDA itself listed as “illegal”, suddenly raids the non-government organisation that has lodged the PIL against them and is working for protecting the heritage zone in Varanasi, and discovers “the presence of “cement bags and stones” and so decides that the Kautilya Society had wrong intentions?

Did the journalists not find it strange that an FIR was issued against an employee for not allowing entry into a private building of persons who arrived without written authorisation and papers?

Did the journalist not have any doubts that the raid, by 5 VDA officers, on an official holiday, into the official premises of the Kautilya Society, was disproportionate to the normal efforts that VDA generally makes in order to avoid illegalities in Varanasi?   Well, we think, a newspaper like the Times of India should give a second look at the incident.

Don’t you think so?

http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-06-08/varanasi/39833097_1_vda-varanasi-development-authority-building-owner;

http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-09-04/varanasi/33581483_1_vda-officials-constructions-ganga

http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-10-11/varanasi/34385704_1_vda-kautilya-society-demolition-drive

http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-09-04/varanasi/33581483_1_vda-officials-constructions-ganga

The Kautilya Society Secretary says that its staff was only relocating some construction material (iron garters, some stones and cement bags) that it had stored in the premises for internal and emergency repair work.  And that the Kautilya Society is not so naïve as to do unauthorized construction, since they are confronting the VDA and are under their special surveillance, so that VDA can take any small opportunity to hurl accusations against them and try to discredit the organization in the eyes of the Allahabad High Court that has been quite harsh and tough against the VDA. The Kautilya Society did not consider the possibility of an unannounced purposeful inspection intended for finding evidence of “wrong” intentions!

We leave the judgment to the reader’s intelligence.

Here, below is some additional information about the Kautilya Society and the PIL that it lodged in 2005 against the VDA for violating the civil laws, U.P.State Government orders, the National Monuments Act . And the links to the web site that give more information about it.

Two of the latest High Court orders on the PIL 31229 of 2005

http://www.kautilyasociety.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Kautilya-Society_PIL_Allahabad-High-Court-Order_-27July12.pdf;

http://www.kautilyasociety.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/PIL_Allahabad-High-Court-Order_14March20131.pdf

The Allahabad High Court Judgment Information System: http://elegalix.allahabadhighcourt.in/elegalix/WebShowJudgment.do?judgmentID=2447321

P.S. The Kautilya Society has written an official complaint to the senior police and administrative officers of Varanasi and the U.P. State government asking that appropriate legal action be taken against this unlawful behaviour of VDA officers who misused their official power and took law into their hands, used unconstitutional language, harassed organisational staff, violated right to privacy by forcing entry into the office premises without official authorisations, defamed and tarnished the image of the Kautilya Society and the General Secretary, gave misleading  information to both the police and the press in order to defame the organisation that has lodged a PIL against them.

On asking the Public Information Officer about the reason for the raid, through the Right to Information Act, Satish Chandra Mishra, the VDA officer leading the inspection team declared that “he organised the raid (on a holiday) because he was solicited by Mr. V.K.Singh, the Vice Chairman of VDA who had “personal hostility” against persons of the Kautilya Society. This is the official recorded written statement!

Finally some response did come from the Varanasi Superintendent of Police. But it was not a response to the report of the Kautilya Society on misuse of power by VDA officers. And what was it? Another FIR!

Kautilya Society Posts: http://www.kautilyasociety.com/blog/banks-of-the-river-ganga-in-varanasi-might-still-survive-the-onslaught-of-illegal-constructions/

See the Story of the PIL at http://www.kautilyasociety.com/blog/varanasi/protecting-the-ganga-ghats-public-interest-litigation-filed-against-varanasi-development-authority/

 

We see here four VDA officers in Ram Bhawan, writing the FIR against the KS staff. In their inspection they did not find any construction irregularity. So in the FIR they said that they have been “assaulted” (by the old lady standing in the photo) and insulted (by Vrinda who was not in India) …. comic or tragic?

In the FIR, it is stated that the KS staff obstructed VDA officers from verifying whether KS was respecting building norms; but the inspecting team freely carried out a thorough investigation at the KS premises and did not find any architectural illegality. Here, we see the VDA officers inspecting the terrace of Ram Bhawan, the KS residency, in a congenial atmosphere – Varanasi 8 June 2013

Diwali Mubarak to all who celebrate the festival of lights

beautiful rangoli of colours

Diwali Mubarak

Diwali Mubarak to everyone!

“Diwali” or “Deepawali” is perhaps the most well-known of the Hindu festivals. The word Diwali means ‘rows of lighted lamps’. On the day of Diwali, homes, shops and public places are decorated with small earthenware oil lamps called diyas or deepa. The festival celebrates the victory of good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance. The actual legends that go with the festival are different in different parts of India:

  • In northern India and elsewhere, Diwali celebrates Rama’s return from fourteen years of exile to Ayodhya after the defeat of Ravana and his subsequent coronation as king;
  • In Gujarat, the festival honours Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth;
  • In Nepal, Diwali commemorates the victory of Lord Krishna over the demon king Narakasura;
  • In Bengal, the festival is associated with the Goddess Kali.

As per spiritual references, on this day the “Lakshmi-panchayatan” enter the Universe: i.e. Vishnu, Indra, Kubera, Gajendra and Lakshmi . Lakshmi is the Divine Energy (Shakti) which provides energy to all activities; Vishnu brings happiness and contentment; Kubera brings wealth and generosity to share this wealth; Indra brings Opulence or satisfaction on receiving wealth; Gajendra or Ganesha carries the wealth; Saraswati brings knowledge and wisdom.

While we celebrate Diwali tomorrow, November 13th, let us remember to make this Diwali “Noise Free”: free from noisy ear deafening crackers and free from air pollution.

Varanasi Celebrates Navratri: Nine Days Dedicated to the Worship of the Goddess

As Varanasi celebrates the Navratri festival, the city is alive with bright and colourful lights, amazing temples temporarily constructed, loud festive music everywhere, children dancing and goodies to eat. The city seems to be bursting at its seams with thousands of people out on the streets celebrating the festival and enjoying the onset of winter after a long and humid summer.

Navaratri (nine nights) is one of the most celebrated Hindu festivals in India. Celebrated for nine days, twice every year, Navratri symbolizes the triumph of good over evil. It is celebrated once at the beginning of October (September – October) and and once at the beginning of summer (March-April). During this period, Universal Mother Goddess – “Maha Durga“; the Goddess of Prosperity – “Maha Lakshmi“; and the Goddess of Wisdom – “Maha Saraswati“, are worshipped as the manifestations of Shakti, or cosmic energy. The nine days of the Navaratri are dedicated to the worship of nine  manifestations of the Goddess.

If you want to know which are the nine Goddesses worshipped on the nine days of the Navaratri, read this write-up: Nine Hindu Goddesses

Mystery of Benares

by Fausto Aarya De Santis

I had been hearing from many friends about Varanasi, some of them described it as a dirty, noisy and chaotic place and others described it as peaceful, quiet; a place you can get inspiration from. The two viewpoints were just the opposite; which was the right one? That was the mystery I intended to discover, so I decided I would go to Varanasi.

It was noon time on a breezy day in February when I was entering the mystery. I was arriving from Calcutta, when I reached the Kashi station of Varanasi. As I got out of the station I was shocked. Inside me, my first reaction was “Oh…my!!! Where have I reached?” It was a chaos. People were pushing each other, getting on and off rickshaws and cycles. There were cows, horses and dogs on the road. Most horses were being used to carry people. In a fraction of a second, all these images came into my mind, and by the time I came out from the clouds of my thoughts and realized where I was, I saw a huge crowd in front of me. Somebody was asking me if I needed a hotel, others were offering to take me around Banaras and the rest were asking for money. All these things were happening so fast that they were spinning in my head like a top. I wasn’t able to understand how people could even like Banaras and the mystery seemed to be getting clearer. I wasn’t able to handle it anymore, I felt like going back from where I had come but it was too far away and I had to get over this “commotion” around me. At the end, with a strong and irritated voice, I said “Stop it!” All the people around me became quiet, but it only lasted for a few seconds and then they started “jumping” on me once again. I had to get in control of the situation. I asked one of the rickshaw drivers to take me to Assi Ghat. He asked for forty rupees. I didn’t know if the price was right or not, but I was so tired that I took the offer. On the road to Assi, I saw so many strange things: cows on the road, not only cows but bulls also, the roads and the houses were very congested, the population density seemed very high and the city was very dirty and noisy. I really wasn’t able to understand how some of my friends could say that is a peaceful and quite place, and the mystery became clearer and clearer.

As I reached Assi Ghat, I went inside one of the hotels and nobody was at the reception. I rang the bell but nobody came. After five minutes of ringing, somebody presented himself at the reception. He was half asleep. I asked him if I could have a single bedroom and he replied he didn’t know if there was a room. I thought to myself, “how can these people do business in this way?” After sending a man to check if there was a room, he told me that there was one left and that it was for a hundred rupees a day, I took it and went into my room. It was around two in the afternoon and I was so stressed and tired that I needed to sleep.

I got up at around six evening and I thought of going for a boat ride. The River Ganges was close to my hotel and so I went walking. Before reaching the Ganges in Assi Ghat, there were twenty metres of sand, and as I was walking towards it, I slowly started feeling relaxed. I took a boat. Looking at the Ghats and floating on the Ganges was making me more and more relaxed and the entire atmosphere around me had a sensation of quiet. I was able to think about my life, about myself and had a feeling I never had before. The mystery was puzzling again: is then Banaras a maddening or a quiet place? I was confused again, because I had a sensation of peace, of quiet and I was thinking about myself, about God and life. Therefore, the friends who said that this was a great place to live in, were also right.

The boat ride had ended, an hour had already passed but it seemed as if it was only ten minutes. I was back in Assi Ghat, it was dinner time and I was getting hungry. A friend of mine had told me about an Italian Pizzeria in Assi Ghat so I went there. The restaurant was full. I saw four people sitting at the right end of the restaurant. I recognized they were Italian because they were the noisiest table in the restaurant.

As I was Italian, I thought of joining them. I went there and asked them if I could join them. They gave me the permission. I introduced myself and then they did too. They were Ruggero, Antonella, Stefano and Vrinda. All of them had already stayed in Varanasi for more than 15 years. We started a discussion about Banaras. I liked a lot the discussion we had, and at the end of the day in my hotel I reflected a lot. All the activities happening in Varanasi were contrasting each other and making the mystery more and more complicated.

There are people who find peace; they like to get away from the world, not to follow materialism. The Ganges gives you a positive feeling, a feeling of quiet and relaxation. In Varanasi, a lot of professors, philosophers, writers and many others come, so there is a lot of “knowledge sharing”. In Varanasi, there is a lot of chaos, people “jumping” on you but the peace can also make you feel worse if you have a fragile mind and sentimental problems. The presence of dead bodies floating on the River Ganges. The presence of the “Babas” and of tantric rituals is difficult to digest. Banaras is also a very noisy and dirty place.

There are people who can not handle Varanasi and leave it as soon as they arrive and there are others who would remain there and never leave it again. The Gods also lived in Banaras and wanted to live here forever but then they were forced to leave. They did all they could to come back and finally they did and settled down, never to leave again; this is what the books on Banaras say.

I realized that there is not only one mystery in Varanasi but many more; some of them we might not know even as yet; like people who run away from Banaras the day they reach the city and those who remain for the rest of their lives; the city that cannot get dirtier than what it is; the masti or intoxicaiton of banaras; the presence of a quiet stillness in a chaotic city.

And many more which I haven’t discovered yet. The day I came, all these mysteries weren’t solved. As I sit here in the Pizzeria, seventy years old, talking to the youngsters coming to Banaras for the first time, I realsie how many are the mysteries I still haven’t discovered.