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Learning to work the ropes[continued]

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Dear oh, dear, you mutter. But wait a minute. For so serious an offense, there was no written complaint by the esteemed 'Lady guests' or any other guest. The police had not even filed an FIR. They only acknowledged the complaint. The 19 month old letter however, was enough to obtain an injunction against an unlettered 70 year old man, who has not touched a drink in his life.

And what of MGM's rights to the land? They produced all lease receipts from 1993 but the last one was dated May 3, 2003. Clearly the lease had expired. More so, it had always been a limited lease giving harvesting rights only; the HR&CE Act forbade any use of the land on which the trees stood. MGM's sworn plaint said that it reliably learns that the HR&CE was *going* to grant MGM a long term lease.

Another curious exchange between HR&CE and MGM also popped out of the envelope. On Feb 3, 2004, far from renewing the lease, HR&CE demanded Rs.70.71 lakhs to be paid within seven days, if the lease was to be renewed. This was probably a punitive levy for having established a lawn.

Filed by a man without locus standi, based on an unverified event 19 months old, the suit still passed muster in the Sub-Ordinate Court of Judge Pugazhendi, to merit an injunction against Chettiar. Such are the uses of the judicial process for the rich of the land to further their unlawful objectives. It was a suit to intimidate villagers and the interim injunction was to force the police to prevent us from entering the temple lands.

The Government joins the case:

We went to meet the Commissioner of HR&CE. He was a fine IAS officer who sized up the scam quickly. We pointed to him that MGM had sworn to the Court: "As there is absolutely no dispute between the plaintiff and the HR&CE in respect of the suit property, the plaintiff has not added the HR&CE Department as a party to the suit". If the department did not contest this, it would let MGM develop a squatter's right. He ordered the MGM file frozen and directed the EO to implead himself in the case. The Commissioner also ordered the Joint Commissioner [JC] to visit the site, meet the villagers, investigate the matter and submit a report.

In the meanwhile, the injunction against Chettiar kept getting extended, with MGM, for so-aggrieved a plaintiff, making no effort to hasten the suit. Liquor parties continued on the encroached temple lands.

On Sep 17, 2004, the JC motored down from Vellore for the investigation. I waited from early morning, with a delegation of villagers near MGM to meet him. Two local officials of HR&CE also waited. The EO had taken the day off. The JC was three hours late arriving . After a long halt at the Tiruvidanthai temple, he finally headed for the disputed land. But curiously he asked me and the few villagers left not to accompany him. I protested and arrived on the scene.

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