UP Govt’s Banners on Anti-CAAProtesters Highly Unjust: HC

UNPRECEDENTED SITTING This is…absolute encroachment on personal liberty of persons concerned: HC; judgement today
State, through additional advocate general, contests jurisdiction of bench to deal with issue

Our Political Bureau

New Delhi:

In an unprecedented move on Sunday, the Allahabad High Court slammed the Uttar Pradesh government’s move to put up roadside banners naming and shaming several citizens facing recovery proceedings for the vandalism seen in the state during the anti-CAA protests for espousing the cause, as “highly unjust” and an “encroachment” into a citizen’s right to privacy.

The high court bench said it would formally rule on the legality of such a move on Monday.

A two-judge bench, led by high court chief justice Govind Mathur, in an unprecedented sitting on Sunday, a court holiday, took suo motu cognisance of a public interest litigation on the issue and demanded an explanation from the state.

The court is already dealing with several such recovery notices issued to many citizens and has stayed some of them till it takes a call on the legality of such notices.

The Yogi Adityanath government’s move to name and shame leading activists, including actress Sadaf Jafar and former IPS officer SR Darapuri, in this backdrop did not go down well with the court. At the state’s insistence, the bench deferred the hearing till afternoon to allow the state to defend itself.

The bench expressed the hope that the posters would be gone by them. “We hope better sense prevails,” the bench said.

The high court bench, which also included Justice Ramesh Sinha, initially demanded how the state could have issued such posters and banners and carried it out without a proper trial.

Individual notices must be issued, the bench said. A trial must be held, it said. “This is highly unjust and an absolute encroachment on the personal liberty of the persons concerned,” it said.

Instead, the state government, through the additional advocate general, appeared in the high court and contested the jurisdiction of the bench to deal with the issue as the banners had been put up in Lucknow. Technically, it would come under the Lucknow bench, the state suggested. It also argued that a suo motu PIL could not have been filed for “law-breakers”.

The additional advocate general also argued that the hoardings were put up to deter other people from doing similar acts and to maintain law and order. These banners identified 29 such persons as being jointly liable to pay ₹64,37,637 to the government. The state government has held these activists and leading figures responsible for the violence and the consequential damage to public property during the December 2019 protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act.

It had recently placed banners and posters bearing the names, photos and addresses of leading anti-CAA protestors in public places to name and shame them and recover damage to public property.

The bench comprised by Chief Justice Govind Mathur and Justice Ramesh Sinha said that the state action of putting up the posters of alleged CAA Protestors was “highly unjust” and that it was an absolute “encroachment” on personal liberty of the persons concerned.

The Lucknow administration had put up hoardings at major cross-sections in the city, with details of about 60 people who have been issued recovery notices for their alleged involvement in violence during CAA protests on December 19, 2019.

A government spokesman said the posters have been up on the Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s directive at important intersections, including the main crossing in the busy Hazratganj area and in front of the Assembly building.

Noted activist Sadaf Jafar, human rights lawyer Mohammad Shoaib, activist and former IPS officer S R Darapuri etc., also figure in one of the banners.

Taking suo moto cognizance of the matter, the division bench decided to hold a special sitting today (Sunday) at 10 AM.