Retired Bombay High Court Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog on Tuesday said that protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and National Register of Citizens (NRC) seem to have stemmed from the experience in Assam where people had suffered due to the “shoddy implementation” of NRC.
While maintaining that people’s right to protest peacefully against government’s decisions is essential for the functioning of a healthy democracy, he said that there was no substance in the argument that people should not protest on the streets.
“While speaking the truth about NRC in Assam, we need to understand that the manner of implementation was so pathetic… they (government) did not notify the ground rules. A large number of people, including women, have suddenly become stateless. They did not specify which document would be considered as proof of birth before a particular cut off date,” Justice Nandrajog, who retired last week after serving as the Bombay HC Chief Justice for 10 months, told The Indian Express.
He added that the secretive way in which the entire issue was handled by the Union government had led to the current protests. “Firstly, you (government) need to lay down rules and specify the standard of proof required to establish citizenship. So, when you do it in a secretive manner, then even your best intentions look very doubtful. It should have been done in more transparent manner,” he said.
Justice Nandrajog said that without laying down the rules for proof of citizenship, the government has introduced National Population Register (NPR) and the next step could be to get NRC through.
Speaking about the difficulties that people face in procuring documents to prove citizenship, he said: “Once a woman leaves home after marriage, where will she get proof stating that she was born at a particular place? If a girl in Beed (Maharashtra) got married to somebody in Haryana, she would not have money to travel and get the local panchayat to certify… Even if she does, she would not be through (prove citizenship) with this panchayat certificate.”
He added that while the government has not specified documents that would be accepted as proof of citizenship, courts in Assam have held that Aadhaar, PAN and Voter ID cards are not valid. “People will have to wait for the government to come up with rules that specify which documents would be accepted as proof.”
Justice Nandrajog said that the right to protest peacefully against government’s decisions is essential. “Everyone has a right to protest against a government policy… people have the right to support it as well. Both sides are entitled to project their views… As long as it is reasonable view, the government cannot say that it will not let certain people project their view. However, protesters should protest in a manner that it does not reach threatening proportions,” he added.
He also pointed out that there is no substance in the argument that people should not be allowed to protest on the streets. “Kindly understand that the purpose of protest is to attract public sympathy for your cause. So, if you do not let people come out on streets/roads, then the purpose of the protest gets defeated. It is a delicate balance… what governance all about. It is navigating your ship through choppy waters… If all is fine, then the ship will row itself.”
On HCs speaking about the rights of CAA and NRC protesters, Justice Nandrajog said: “I think most of high courts have done a very good job. They told the police that use of force is the last resort… You (police) just cannot start indiscriminate lathicharge against protesters.”
Recently, the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay HC had set aside an order by a magistrate against allowing protests in Beed and said that protesters cannot be called traitors, anti-nationals only because they want to oppose a law.
“You (police) cannot impose Section 144 (prevention against unlawful assembly) of CrPC without some kind of apprehension. The law is very clear that the decision is subjective… to the satisfaction of the government. However, it needs to be based on some objective facts. If you do not have them and proceed on ‘I think it will happen’ basis, the court would rightly refuse to accept it. In a democracy, the government must be transparent.”
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