Expressing his anguish over increasing incidents of violence in public — be it by kanwarias or during the Maratha reservation protests — Attorney General K K Venugopal told the Supreme Court Friday that fixing responsibility on a police officer, for example the Superintendent of Police, was one way to check this trend.
Appearing before a bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, Venugopal said: “Kanwarias are overturning vehicles in Delhi…There is an incident of major rioting every week, even by educated groups. Marathas in Maharashtra, SC/ST… nothing is done”.
He was responding to a PIL which sought framing of guidelines to deter violence by outfits during public protests. The petition was filed earlier this year in the wake of protests by Karni Sena over Bollywood movie Padmavat.
Venugopal pointed out that during the anti-Padmavat protests, some groups had threatened to cut off the nose of actor Deepika Padukone for her portrayal of Queen Padmavati. He wondered whether these were part of civilised behaviour.
When the AG referred to unruly incidents involving some Kanwarias, Justice Chandrachud weighed in. “Half of National Highway in Allahabad was blocked…half of the Allahabad-Benares Highway was blocked”, he said.
Appearing for petitioner Kodungallur Film Society, advocate P V Dinesh said everything should be done to prevent such incidents. “It should not happen whoever may be doing it”, added the CJI. “You cannot touch third-party property… for that matter you cannot burn your own house… these happenings must stop,” observed the CJI.
The AG said it was difficult to stop these incidents unless responsibility was fixed on some officer. He referred to how Delhi Development Authority (DDA) had divided the city into various zones and placed them under different officers who would be held responsible in case there were building law violations in their respective zones.
Similarly, responsibility can be fixed on Superintendents of Police of each district, suggested Venugopal.
“The courts can then haul him up, ask him to show videos of the incident, ask him how many FIRs have been filed, etc,” if something happens, he said. He added that the government has been contemplating an amendment in existing law to deal with such kind of protests and asked the courts to allow the legislature to change the law suitably.
“We will not wait for the amendment. This is a grave situation and this must stop,” the bench said. It reserved its order and asked Dinesh to give suggestions besides the guidelines issued by the court in 2009.
In 2007, the apex court had taken note of various incidents of large-scale destruction of public and private properties in the name of “agitations, bandhs and hartals” and had issued guidelines on the issue in 2009.
It had considered reports of two committees headed by former apex court judge K T Thomas and senior lawyer F S Nariman. It had said that organisers of any protest would be personally held accountable for the loss of private and public properties. The organisers shall meet the police to review and revise the route to be taken and to lay down conditions for a peaceful march or protest, it had said.
All weapons, including knives, batons and the like shall be prohibited, it had said, adding: “An undertaking is to be provided by the organisers to ensure a peaceful march with marshals at each relevant junction”.
“The police and state government shall ensure videograph of such protests to the maximum extent possible,” it said, adding, “the person in charge to supervise the demonstration shall be the SP (if the situation is confined to the district) and the highest police officer in the state, where the situation stretches beyond one district”. (with PTI)