The Allahabad High Court on Monday, 9 March, ordered the removal of the hoardings put up by the Uttar Pradesh government naming those accused of violence during anti-CAA protests in Lucknow, terming the move as “nothing but an unwarranted interference in privacy of people.”
The bench, headed by Chief Justice Govind Mathur, also directed the district magistrate and the police commissioner to submit a compliance report to the court by 16 March and the UP government is prohibited to put up such hoardings again.
The hoardings in question carry the names, addresses and photographs of the accused. They also proclaim that if the accused fail to pay for damage to public property, their own properties would be attached.
Banners Violate Right to Privacy: HC
In its order, the high court made it clear that “no law is in existence permitting the State to place the banners with personal data of the accused from whom compensation is to be charged."
The court admitted that the government order referred by the AG “certainly provides a procedure to charge compensation from the persons causing damage to the public property but that does not permit the State to encroach privacy of a person."
“There is no question of posting the photographs of history-sheeters even at police stations.”Allahabad High Court
The bench noted that people’s photographs can only be published to get the assistance of the public to apprehend of a fugitive from justice. It said that the government, in this case, was only attempting to recover compensation from the accused who are not fugitives in any manner.
"In our country, where privacy is not explicitly recognised as fundamental right in the Constitution, the courts have found such right protected as an intrinsic part of life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution of India,” the bench said in its order.
“This fundamental right provides lungs to the edifice of our entire constitutional system. A slightest injury to it is impermissible as that may be fatal for our values designed and depicted in the preamble of the constitution," it added.
“In entirety, we are having no doubt that the action of the State which is subject matter of this public interest litigation is nothing but an unwarranted interference in privacy of people.”Allahabad High Court
Court Responds to UP Govt’s Arguments
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.
In response the high court, in its order, said:
“In the present case, the cause is not about personal injury caused to the persons whose personal details are given in the banner but the injury caused to the precious constitutional value and its shameless depiction by the administration.”Allahabad High Court
It pointed out that the government was planning to employ the same measure in other cities of UP, therefore, “Looking to the state wide nature of impugned action, it cannot be said that this Court at Allahabad is not having territorial jurisdiction to adjudicate the cause involved.”
The court also rebutted the government’s argument that it shouldn’t have taken the case up on its own as a public interest litigation (PIL).
“Where there is gross negligence on part of public authorities and government, where the law is disobeyed and the public is put to suffering and where the precious values of the constitution are subjected to injuries, a constitutional court can very well take notice of that at its own.”Allahabad High Court
Responding to the the government’s assertion that the banners were put up in public interest, it said, “No doubt the state can always take necessary steps to ensure maintenance of law and order but that cannot be by violating fundamental rights of people.”
Here is a copy of the full judgment pronounced by the Allahabad High Court: