On Thursday, 12 March, the Supreme Court will hear an appeal by the Uttar Pradesh government against the Allahabad High Court order asking the Lucknow administration to remove posters of those accused of vandalism during anti-CAA protests.
The case has been listed before the vacation bench of the apex court, comprising Justices UU Lalit and Aniruddha Bose – the court is currently in the middle of Holi vacations and regular benches will only resume on 16 March.
On Monday, the Allahabad High Court had ordered the removal of the hoardings put up by the UP government in Lucknow, which carried the names, addresses and photos of those accused of violence during anti-CAA protests, and from whom it was demanding compensation for damage to public property.
The high court held that the move was an “unwarranted interference in the privacy” of the people – none of whom have been convicted of a crime – whose personal details had been put up in public.
The court dismissed the UP government’s objections and held that the state had a right to maintain law and order but this did not mean they could violate fundamental rights. The banners were found to be disproportionate measures and without any basis in law.
The bench headed by Chief Justice Govind Mathur also prohibited the state government from putting up such hoardings elsewhere in UP, and directed the district magistrate and the police commissioner to submit a compliance report with the registrar general of the high court by 16 March.
On Sunday, the Allahabad HC had conducted an extraordinary hearing into the issue after taking suo motu cognisance of the case. The UP authorities were unable to offer any justification or authority in law for the move.
The bench on Sunday had reportedly termed the action of Uttar Pradesh authorities as “highly unjust” and said it was an absolute encroachment on personal liberty of individuals.
But the Advocate General had disputed the jurisdiction of the court, stating that the hoardings had been put up in Lucknow, which is beyond the jurisdiction of the principal bench.
The bench, in response, had told him that a proper trial should have been held, and naming people and putting up banners in the absence of any law enabling the same is unacceptable.
SP, BSP, Congress Welcome Decision
The Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Congress welcomed the court order.
"The government neither has the knowledge of right to privacy of citizens nor any respect for the Constitution. The people of the state are fed up with this government. We welcome the high court's decision," SP leader Akhilesh Yadav said, as per PTI.
BSP chief Mayawati too tweeted in favour of the decision.
Meanwhile, Congress state president Ajay Kumar Lallu said the court's decision has "exposed" the undemocratic and anti-constitution stand of the Adityanath government.
"The right to privacy is a fundamental right but the government ignored it and put up posters of the accused which was unconstitutional and undemocratic," Lallu said.
What Happened on Sunday?
On Sunday, the court first heard the case in the morning and later adjourned the matter till 3 pm as Additional Advocate General Neeraj Tripathi informed the court that Advocate General would represent the state government in this matter.
As the bench rose, it had expressed the hope that “good sense would prevail” on the state and it would remove the hoardings before 3 pm and apprise the court about this at that time.
When the hearing resumed, Advocate General Raghvendra Pratap Singh contended that the court should not interfere in such a matter as a public interest litigation as those involved have damaged public and private property.
The advocate general termed the act of the state government in putting up the posters as a ‘deterrent’, so that such incidents of violence are not repeated in future.
The hoardings also had the addresses and photos of the accused, and were erected at prominent intersections in Lucknow. The banners came up at major road crossings in Lucknow late on Thursday on the directions of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, reported PTI, quoting an official.
Those named on the banners had been asked to pay for damage to public property in Lucknow sustained during the protests. If the accused failed to pay, the hoardings said, their properties would be attached, reported NDTV.
‘This is Not Afghanistan’: Sadaf Jafar
Among those named in the hoardings were activist-politician Sadaf Jafar, lawyer Mohammed Shoaib, theatre personality Deepak Kabir and former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer SR Darapuri. All those who were named were out on bail and had stated that they would contest any move by the government in court, reported NDTV.
Jafar had termed the move as unethical and vowed to take legal recourse.
“How can we be publicly humiliated for something that has not yet been proved in court?”Sadaf Jafar
“This is not Afghanistan. Legal issues cannot be brought into public like this. Our bail order says there is no adequate evidence against us,” Jafar had told PTI. "We are not absconding,” she had said, adding that they had appeared before the court and police whenever asked.
Later, reacting to the court's order for the removal, Jafar told PTI, "The judgment is extremely welcome because it reiterates our faith in the Constitution of the country, and also in the judiciary. Secondly, it also send a strong signal to the government that the state shall be run not by the authoritarianism, but by the rule of law."
She, however, regretted that their personal details have reached people and the threat to their lives was still not over.
'Victory of Democracy and Defeat of Dictatorship': SR Darapuri
Former IPS officer, SR Darapuri had also claimed that the hoardings were illegal.
“Our life, property and freedom have been put in jeopardy by putting up these posters, and our reputation has been damaged,”SR Darapuri, Former IPS officer
After the court order for the removal, Darapuri said, "We welcome the judgment because it proved that in UP, the rule of law will prevail, not the anarchy (aarajaktaa) of the Yogi (Adityanath) government. This is a victory of democracy and defeat of dictatorship," PTI reported.
He added that earlier he had written to the DGP and the home secretary that if any untoward incident took place because of the "illegal actions", then they "will be responsible for it".
Against the Democratic System: Akhilesh Yadav
Meanwhile, Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav had asked how the government could publicly declare someone a culprit without a court order.
“The BJP government is out to crush all those opposed to it. These posters cannot be termed as right in any way. Announcing anyone a culprit is against the democratic system.”Akhilesh Yadav, Samajwadi Party President
Congress Party General Secretary, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also commented on the issue, stating that the UP government “has started thinking of itself as above the Constitution.”
“The attitude of the BJP government of UP is such that the head of the government and the officials following his footsteps have started thinking themselves above the Constitution made by Babasaheb Ambedkar. The High Court has told the government that you are not above the Constitution. Your accountability will be fixed.”
(With inputs from PTI)