The Supreme Court on Thursday observed that there was no law to support putting up hoardings with names, photographs and addresses of anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protestors, reported Live Law. A two-judge vacation bench was hearing a special leave petition filed by the Uttar Pradesh government against the Allahabad High Court order to remove the hoardings in Lucknow.
The court refused to stay the Allahabad High Court order, but referred the matter to a three-judge regular bench.
Last week, the Adityanath-led state government set up the hoardings at several locations in Lucknow to identify those who allegedly committed violence during demonstrations against the Act. However, taking suo motu cognisance of the matter, the Allahabad High Court on March 9 ordered the removal of the hoardings, calling the state government’s action “shameless” and an “unwarranted interference in privacy”.
The hoardings had photos, names and addresses of 53 people, including activist Sadaf Jafar, former bureaucrat SR Darapuri, Shia cleric Maulana Saif Abbas, human rights activist Mohammed Shoaib and theatre personality Deepak Kabir.
During the hearing on Thursday, the Uttar Pradesh government told the top court bench that the High Court had erred in passing the order. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the state government, said that the erecting of banners was done after the adjudicating authority had heard 95 people. He claimed that 57 people were responsible in rioting. “This 57 includes rioters from various communities,” said Mehta.
However, the Supreme Court castigated the state. Justice UU Lalit observed that even though there must not be unruly and disorderly behaviour, there needed to be a law that defended such hoardings in order to leave them up. “If a person does not have orderly behaviour and somebody videographs it, this waives the right to privacy,” said Justice Lalit. “But we are on a different aspect, whether the right is castigated for all times.”
To this, Solicitor General Mehta said that a person wielding guns during protests and involved in violence cannot claim the right to privacy. He also read out excerpts from two earlier cases to state that there is a waiver of right to privacy once violence is committed in public.
Justice Aniruddha Bose asked from where the state got the power to put up such hoardings. Mehta argued that the decision was well within the contours of law. “The contours are laid down sufficiently,” he claimed.
When the bench asked if the time granted for payment of compensation for the damage to public property has lapsed, Mehta said they have 30 days time from February 13. “The apprehension was whether they will dispose of property to avoid payment,” he added.
The bench then noted that time is still available for accused persons, and that their petitions challenging recovery proceedings are still pending. The justices then asked if such “drastic steps are covered by law?” The court said that although it can understand the anxiety of the state but there is perhaps no law to back its decision.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who appeared for Darapuri, asked since when it has been allowed to name and shame the accused. “Someone’s intention might be to shame, anothers may be to lynch. How do we differentiate and how do we control?” he asked. Singhvi argued that such posters are meant to incite people to lynch and hit the those named on the hoardings.
Senior lawyer Colin Gonsalves, appearing for accused Mohammad Shoaib, said this is the grossest form of violation. “Somebody can come to my home and kill me,” he added.
Senior advocate CU Singh, appearing for one of the accused, said the source of power to put up such hoardings must emanate from a law. He called it a “vindictive approach of the state government”.
The High Court order
In its order on March 9, the Allahabad High Court said the hoardings constituted a violation of Article 21 of the Constitution. On the state government’s claim that the High Court lacked territorial jurisdiction as the matter arose in Lucknow, the bench said the reason for its involvement was not about “personal injury” to those named in the hoardings, but “the injury caused to the precious constitutional value and its shameless depiction by the administration”.
The High Court directed the Lucknow district magistrate and police commissioner to submit a report on the removal of posters by March 16. However, the hoardings reportedly remain in place.
In an earlier hearing on March 6, the High Court had told the state government that a proper hearing should have been held instead of naming people and putting up banners, which was “unacceptable”. The court had also said the state’s action was “highly unjust” and an “absolute encroachment” on personal liberty of the people whose names and photos were displayed.
The Citizenship Amendment Act provides citizenship to refugees from six minority communities in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, who have entered India on or before December 31, 2014. The Act, passed on December 11, has been criticised for excluding Muslims. In December, at least 28 people died in protests against the Act, 19 of them in Uttar Pradesh itself. Most of those who died had suffered bullet-inflicted wounds.