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Door slammed on AG for speaking his mind


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When there is a conflict of duty towards the people and the ruling party, an advocate general (AG) has to resign. For an AG has to lie to the people for the benefit of the ruling party to survive. If he thinks otherwise, he has to demit office as Shreehari Aney has done causing some embarrassment to chief minister Devendra Fadnavis who has seen two AGs quitting within six months of being named.

AGs of Maharashtra often have to use semantics in court and verbal acrobatics outside to defend inept chief ministers from judicial and media scrutiny. To illustrate, Devendra Fadnavis disowned in the legislative assembly the

statement of Aney’s predecessor, AG Sunil Manohar, in the high court, that the government was mulling a ban on the killing of all animals in the State.

This among other reasons may have provoked Manohar to quit within six months of being sworn in, citing “personal reasons” which is a euphemism for things left unsaid. Manohar’s sister Justice Vasanti Naik is a judge of the Bombay High Court and his brother Shashank Manohar is former president of the Board of Control of Cricket in India.

The three are offsprings of 83-year-old former A-G, V.R. Manohar,  of the Bombay High Court who was known to stay in the Oberoi Hotel when he came from Nagpur which is also the home town of Fadnavis and former AG Shreehari Aney.

Nagpur is the home of ‘formidable” families who have sent lawyers both to the Supreme Court and the chief ministers’ office, apart from being the capital of Vidarbha which has seen 800 farmers killing themselves in 2014 alone, making Maharashtra the State to have the highest number of farmers’ suicides in India. Drought-hit Marathwada has seen 600 farmers’ suicides in 2014 which among other things provoked Aney to demand a separate State.

But the AG cannot speak as bluntly as Aney did in the high court when he said that the Maharashtra government was “inept in handling farmers’ suicides” rousing the ire of the Shiv Sena  because the A-G is a political appointee despite being a Constitutional post on par with the Attorney General of India and the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. An AG is only supposed to see the evil around him but not expose it in the high court for fear of being removed by the legislature which is what Aney faced.

Aney has always felt that the AG is not merely a government pleader but a lawyer for the people because they comprise the State. “There is a judgment which states precisely that an AG is first a lawyer of the people and not of the ruling party which means that if government decisions are adverse to the people’s interests, he should advocate the cause of the people. This led to my advice to reopen a fresh probe against former chief minister Ashok Chavan in the Adarsh scam and for distribution of water to the drought-hit farmers in Marathwada which has seen the second highest farmers’ suicides after Vidarbha,” he told FPJ.

“This is why I spoke about the primacy of the needs of farmers who are committing suicide and if their needs could not be served, then there was no choice but to have a separate state for Marathwada,” he told FPJ. He has even written a book in Marathi suggesting that a separate State of Vidarbha should be carved out of Maharashtra.

The Shiv Sena has demanded that Aney be booked for sedition because he exhorted the people of Marathwada to launch an agitation for a separate State. If the Sena does lodge an FIR against Aney under Section 124 A of the IPC (Sedition), he will go down in history for being the first AG in India to face a sedition charge for speaking his mind. That may precipitate another agitation to remove Section 124A from the Indian Penal Code forever.

The author is a journalist-turned-lawyer practicing in the Bombay High Court with a PhD in Media Law

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