In a major setback to Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, the Rajasthan High Court on Wednesday directed the ruling BJP to stop organising government functions en route her ‘Gaurav Yatra’ being held in the run-up to the State Assembly elections due in December this year. The court termed the holding of public functions during the yatra as an “abuse of power”.Allowing a public interest writ petition, a Division Bench led by Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog ruled that no public functions sponsored and financed by the State would be held during Ms. Raje’s yatra, which has so far covered the Mewar and Marwar regions and will resume from Bikaner district on Thursday.The PIL, filed by lawyer Vibhuti Bhushan Sharma and social activist Sawai Singh, alleged misuse of the government machinery and challenged the expenditure from the treasury for the yatra which is a BJP programme ahead of the Assembly elections. BJP president Amit Shah had flagged off the yatra from Charbhuja temple in Rajsamand on August 4.Taking note of an August 1 order issued to the Public Works Department for making arrangements, which has since been withdrawn, the court said the initial attempt by the government was a “palpable abuse of the State’s executive power to directly help a political party, i.e. the BJP”.The court observed that the State-financed programmes were so intermingled with the ‘Gaurav Yatra’ that it was impossible to segregate one from the other. “If the leader of a political party who happens to be the Chief Minister inaugurates public functions, the understanding would be glorification of the political party and not the achievements by the government.”The 12-page judgment relied on the Supreme Court’s decisions in two cases related to public-funded government advertisement campaigns, while holding that under the cover of the notices inviting tenders without listing works to be executed with detailed description, the State government was spending money for erecting public platforms from where the CM was addressing the political rallies.Caught on wrong foot The BJP government was caught on the wrong foot during the hearing, when the petitioners had claimed that a tender of ₹23 lakh was floated for the yatra in Sirohi district on the pretext of a “development exhibition for a VIP visit”, even when the matter was sub-judice. The court had sought a reply from the State government on the issue.The State government had earlier claimed during the hearing that the yatra was being organised by the BJP and no public money were being spent on it. It stated that the administration was only providing security to the CM and her Cabinet colleagues as per the protocol during the march, which was being taken out to apprise the people of the government’s welfare schemes.The BJP had also submitted an affidavit in compliance with the high court’s direction with the details of expenditure made during the yatra’s first phase. The affidavit stated that an expenditure of ₹1.10 crore was undertaken for the yatra.The Congress has welcomed the high court’s judgment, describing it as a “historic verdict [which] has shown mirror” to the BJP government. Pradesh Congress president Sachin Pilot said Ms. Raje’s yatra was a “gimmick”, on which the public money had been wasted for reaping political benefits. The issue of alleged misuse of public money during the yatra was also briefly raised on the opening day of the Rajasthan Assembly’s monsoon session on Wednesday.
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