MUMBAI: The Bombay high court on Tuesday was told that since the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) surrounds the cantonment area it shall provide all assistance for combating coronavirus to the Pune Cantonment Board.
A bench of Justices Shahrukh Kathawalla and Riyaz Chagla were informed by advocate general Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, who was summoned along with additional solicitor general Anil Singh to know whether the state or Central governments shall pay the board its legitimate share of compensation under the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
The court heard a petition by two residents of Cantonment area, for which the Board is administrative authority, to release compensation payable to local authorities under GST. One of the petitioners wrote a letter to the Board’s CEO regarding detection of Carona infected citizens in Pune City and to take measures, including a disaster management plan, to curb the dreadful virus.
On March 9, 2020, the CEO replied that the Board is unable to provide civic amenities as it does not have adequate funds and once its GST share is received, it will be better equipped to take preventive measures. The GST share due to the Board, 2200 is Rs 510 crore.
The judges, in their March 16 order, said WHO has declared Covid-19 a pandemic and as on March 11, 2020, there were more than 1,18,000 cases in 114 countries and 4,291 people have lost their lives. “114/121 cases of coronavirus are also reported in India including the State of Maharashtra,’’ they noted, adding there are cases also reported in Pune.
“In such circumstances, when the entire world, as well as our country, is facing such a vexing catastrophe, the CEO of the Pune Cantonment Board cannot be heard to say that although it is the duty of the board to provide civic amenities and to take preventive measures when such a crisis emerges, the board is not having adequate funds and it will be better equipped to serve the general public only after it receives its legitimate share of GST.” With the Centre and state pointing fingers at each other to pay the board its GST share, the judges summoned their top law officers to appear before it.
On Tuesday, the AG said PMC has agreed to give all assistance to the Board. The boards’ advocate said, “We immediately need Rs 2.30 crore for dealing with the situation. The government can release it under any head. We’ll provide details of expenditure of this amount to the court.”
The AG said the government won’t be able to release this amount. He also said since the petitioners have demanded that funds should be released for civic amenities but it is too vague a term to define. Petitioners’ advocate Shriniwas Patwardhan said providing health and sanitation is the duty of the Board and therefore the assistance assured by PMC will be insufficient. “They are releasing money to Maldives and Bangladesh, then why not to Pune Cantonment Board? ” he asked. The judges recorded the AG’s statement about PMC providing assistance on record. Adjourning the hearing to Friday, they asked both the Centre and State to file an affidavit in reply on who will release the amount of GST share to the board.