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'Any Attempt To Demand Gawking Charges To Be Treated As Extortion & Penalised Under Most Stringent Provisions': Kerala High Court

Hannah M Varghese
1 Nov 2021 4:31 PM GMT
Any Attempt To Demand Gawking Charges To Be Treated As Extortion & Penalised Under Most Stringent Provisions: Kerala High Court
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The Kerala High Court on Monday made it clear that any attempt made in the State to demand gawking charges (popularly known as nokkukooli) will be penalised under the most stringent provisions of law under the offence of extortion. Justice Devan Ramachandran was, however, pleased to be informed that the State government had taken a keen interest in the matter and had initiated positive...

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The Kerala High Court on Monday made it clear that any attempt made in the State to demand gawking charges (popularly known as nokkukooli) will be penalised under the most stringent provisions of law under the offence of extortion. 

Justice Devan Ramachandran was, however, pleased to be informed that the State government had taken a keen interest in the matter and had initiated positive steps towards the eradication of the practice: 

"There is finally some movement in the resolve against nokkukooli after this Court came down heavily on the statutory authorities through the last two orders. The Government Pleader informed this Court that stringent steps and measures have been taken to ensure that even the concept of nokkukooli is obliterated forever from our State and that the honourable Chief Minister has personally taken an initiative for this purpose."

Government Pleader E.C Bineesh informed the Court today that pursuant to its earlier order, the State had conducted meetings and decided that strong action will be taken against incidents of nokkukooli. It was asserted that persons demanding nokkukooli will not get any support for any such unlawful activities.

"That is the strong stance taken by the government at all levels. Even the Chief Minister has publicly declared that no element of nokkukooli will be permitted. All ministers are also of the same view. The government is proceeding with the decision that such issues should not arise in the future," he submitted.

The Court thereby directed the State to submit a report informing the steps taken by it by the next date of hearing and posted it on 22nd November.

The bench was hearing a plea by a hotel owner seeking police protection to carry on his business without intervention from certain individuals who were demanding gawking charges.

It was also noted that although it was not brought officially before the notice of the court, it is available from media reports that even pending this matter and even after the court vehemently made a declaration that nokkukooli can never ever be demanded in the State, a hapless citizen was attacked and had his arm broken allegedly over refusal to pay demands of nokkukooli.

While the State informed the Court that the perpetrators have been arrested, the Court reiterated its stand that what is at stake is not the business of an individual petitioner before this court, but the collective interest of the state of Kerala as a whole.

Unless deleterious tendencies like nokkukooli are done away with, the industrial and business atmosphere of Kerala can never get better, and the Court noted with some pleasure that the government was acting in such direction. 

"This was inevitable because no government can countenance any tendencies that will destroy the economic well-being of our State. I propose to wait a few more days before I deliver a judgment in the matter so that the inputs regarding the steps taken by the court and the government can be made available. I deem it to re-emphasise that any attempt to demand nokkukooli in any veiled manner shall always be treated as being extortion and the perpetrator will be brought to charge under the most stringent provisions." 

The Cout added:

"Until perpetrators understand that any conduct of theirs to extort money under the euphemism of nokkukooli or such other will visit them with very serious consequences, the confidence in Kerala as an investor-friendly destination cannot be firmly established. I hope that the government is firm in their resolve and the trade unions reign inappropriately,"

Standing Counsel for Headload Workers Welfare Fund Board K Siju also submitted that its members have now been given awareness classes and that they have been told not to indulge in violence or demands of extortion since they would face prosecution for offences under the IPC.

A campaign called "No Nokkukooli 2021" has also been undertaken, he added.

However, the Court remarked that lack of awareness was not the issue, rather it is the feeling of imperviousness that those demanding nokkukooli will be protected by trade unions.

"Do you think trade unions are unaware, that they don't read the newspapers? There is an executive order. They think they are impervious, that they not fear consequences because they will be supported and protected."  

The Court, therefore, adjourned the matter by which time all respondents are expected to file reports regarding the steps taken by them in the matter.

Case Title: T.K Sundareshan v. District Police Chief

Click Here To Read The Order 

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