Suspending firearm licences of members of only one community in the aftermath of communal riots was neither in consonance with the constitutional obligation of maintaining equity before law and nor it upheld its secular values, the Allahabad High Court has observed.
The observation came in connection with a bunch of petitions in which the petitioners had challenged the suspension of their licences in the aftermath of riots that broke out in in September 2013 in Saharanpur.
Following a previous order of the court in the same matter, the district administration restored the licences on August 11.
But the single judge bench went on to impose a cost of Rs 5,000 each of the seven petitions, totaling Rs 35,000, on the state that may be recovered from the then District Magistrate after inquiry for causing avoidable litigation.
The bench of Justice Sudhir Agarwal passed the order on August 26 while disposing of the petitions, the lead petition being that of Rakesh. All the petitioners, barring one Sherpal who is a government college teacher, are farmers living in rural areas under Deoband police station of Saharanpur district.
One of the prime allegations of the petitioners was that the administration had suspended the licences of members of only one community. They had also sought imposition of cost for avoidable litigation. The court agreed with their contentions.
The riots had broken out following a petty incident in early September 2013. Subsequently, the licences of the petitioners were cancelled on different dates September 12, 13, 16 and 21 in 2013. Their licences were suspended for allegedly not cooperating with the police in maintaining peace.
The bench pointed out that neither the government counsel, nor an Additional District Magistrate present before the court, could explain why the licences of only one community were selected for suspension.
The bench said: “In any riot, there are two parties. It is admitted and also evident from record that the alleged riot involved members of two sections/ communities of society. None else but those of only one section of society gave an occasion for similar action is difficult to believe and beyond apprehension. In fact, the affidavit (filed by the district administration) is totally silent on this aspect.”
As per records submitted by the district administration, at least 72 firearm licences of people of one community were suspended in three villages — Rankhandi, Meeragpur and Gunarasi (or Gunarasa) — under Deoband police station area.
Holding it a “selective executive action, patently arbitrary and discriminatory”, the court said it also seriously disturbed communal harmony in society.
“The kind of action, which has been taken by District Magistrate concerned, in the case in hand, I have no option but to observe, (it) breaches not only the constitutional protection of equity before law but also the very preamble thereof which requires the state to act as a ‘secular state’,” the court said.