Underlining that “no court can shut its eyes if a public unjust is happening just before it”, the Allahabad High Court Monday ordered the Lucknow district administration to remove banners and hoardings carrying photographs and details of over 50 people accused of violence during the anti-CAA protests.
It called the action of the State an “unwarranted interference in privacy of people”, a “shameless depiction” and said “placement of personal data of selected persons reflects colorable exercise of powers by the Executive”.
Passing a detailed order in a public interest litigation on the basis of suo motu cognizance taken by the Allahabad High Court, the bench comprising Chief Justice Govind Mathur and Justice Ramesh Sinha directed the District Magistrate and Commissioner of Police, Lucknow “not to place such banners on roadside containing personal data of individuals without having authority of law”.
“…suffice to state 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 act of the State in the instant matter, we do not find any necessity for a democratic society for a legitimate aim to have publication of personal data and identity. The accused persons are the accused from whom some compensation is to be recovered and in no manner they are fugitive,” the bench said.
“A report of satisfactory compliance is required to be submitted by the District Magistrate, Lucknow to the Registrar General of this Court on or before 16th March, 2020. On receiving such compliance report, the proceedings of this petition shall stand closed,” the bench ordered.
Rejecting the submission of Advocate General Raghvendra Singh that the High Court “erred” in invoking public interest jurisdiction in the instant matter, and that it was available to “underprivileged section of the society only”, the High Court observed that where there is “gross negligence on part of public authorities and government” or 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”.
“The Court in such matters is not required to wait necessarily for a person to come before it to ring the bell of justice. The Courts are meant to impart justice and no court can shut its eyes if a public unjust is happening just before it. The concept of ‘standing’ has acquired a new shape in our justice delivery system,” the bench said.
It said that in the present case, there is “valid apprehension of causing serious injury to the rights protected under Article 21”.
“..in the instant matter the act of the district and police administration of Lucknow is alleged to be in conflict with the right of life and liberty. Hence, the suo motu action by the Court is justified,” the bench said.
On the Advocate General’s argument that the entire cause of action arose in Lucknow, hence, a court in Allahabad “lacks territorial jurisdiction”, the bench said that 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”.
“Pertinent to note that the government agencies in the State of Uttar Pradesh have proposed to install the banners of accused persons in other cities also… Looking to the statewide nature of impugned action, it cannot be said that this Court at Allahabad is not having territorial jurisdiction to adjudicate the cause involved,” the bench said.
On the government argument that there is no need for a PIL as the matter essentially pertains to recovery of compensation from the accused persons, the bench said that the issue “is not the compensation” but “depiction of personal data of persons on a roadside, which may amount unwarranted interference in privacy of a person”.
The Advocate General had also argued that court should not interfere in the matter as installing the banners “is only to deter citizens from participation in illegal activities”.
At this, the bench said, “The object as disclosed to us is only to deter the people from participating in illegal activities. On asking, learned Advocate General failed to satisfy us as to why the personal data of few persons have been placed on banners though in the State of Uttar Pradesh there are lakhs of accused persons who are facing serious allegations pertaining to commission of crimes whose personal details have not been subjected to publicity. As a matter of fact, the placement of personal data of selected persons reflects colorable exercise of powers by the Executive.”
The bench also reminded the government that under sections of the Code of Criminal Procedure, no power is available in the Code to police or the Executive to display personal records of a person to public at large.
“There are certain provisions empowering the investigating agencies or other Executives to take picture of accused for the purpose of their identification and record but that too is not open for publication. The only time these photographs be published is to have assistance in the apprehension of a fugitive from justice,” the bench said.
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