A vacation bench of Supreme Court on Thursday referred to three-judge bench the Special Leave Petition filed by the State of Uttar Pradesh against the March 9 judgment of Allahabad High Court which directed the "forthwith" removal of the banners erected by the UP administration in Lucknow revealing the pictures, identities and addresses of persons alleged of committing violence during anti-CAA protests.
A bench comprising Justices U U Lalit and Aniruddha Bose said that the the matter involves "issues which need further consideration by a bench of sufficient strength" and referred it to larger bench for consideration next week.
Notably, the bench did not pass any order staying the operation of the direction of the Allahabad High Court. No express request for stay was made by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who appeared for UP Government.
"We direct, let the papers be placed before the Hon'ble CJI so that the a bench of sufficient strength consider the matter in the coming week", stated the bench in the order. The order also mentioned that Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had referred to the decisions in Puttaswamy and Rajagopalan cases and a UK decision on the point of waiver of right to privacy.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted that the banners were erected after the adjudicating authority had heard 95 people and found that 57 persons were responsible in rioting.
"This 57 includes rioters from various communities", SG said.
He added that there as per Puttaswamy decision, there was implied waiver of right to privacy once a person is in public domain. Once a person has been videographed to be indulging in violent activities in public places, he cannot claim protection of right to privacy, SG added.
The bench asked the SG about the law which supported the action of putting up hoardings containing the name of alleged rioters.
While Justice Lalit observed that vandalism should be condemned, he asked if the perpetrators could be 'castigated for all times'.
The bench noted that time for payment was still available for accused persons, and that their petitions challenging recovery proceedings are pending.
In the light of these, the bench asked if such "drastic steps" were covered by law.
Senior Advocate Dr A M Singhvi, appearing for former IPS officer S R Darapuri whose name was published in a banner, submitted that the action of government amounted to an "appeal for lynching". Singhvi submitted that even the names of child rapists and serious criminals were not published. He also pointed out that the issue of recovery of damages was still sub-judice.
"We don't have an anarchy in the state that the Government will start doing this!", Singhvi said.
"Someones intention might be to shame, anothers may be to lynch. How do we differentiate and how do we control?", Singhvi asked.
Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for lawyer Mohammad Shoaib, submitted that his client has faced assaults in the past for taking up the causes of minorities, and he may be attacked or even lynched following the publication of his name and address in the banners.
Senior Advocate C U Singh submitted that the UP Government was following a "vindictive approach" and that a "section of people are being targeted".
"The source of such power to put up hoardings has to emanate from a law, not from guidelines or executive orders", asserted Singh
The Allahabad HC had taken suo moto cognizance of the issue and held a special sitting on Sunday, March 8, to hear the matter. On Monday, March 9, a division bench comprising Chief Justice Govind Mathur and Justice Ramesh Sinha directed the removal of the hoardings, after holding that the action of the State amounted to an "unwarranted infringement in privacy".
In the judgment, the High Court observed :
"In entirety, we are having no doubt that the action of the State which is subject matter of this public interest litigation is nothing but an unwarranted interference in privacy of people. The same hence, is in violation of Article 21 of the Constitution of India".
The HC had directed the administration to file compliance report by March 16.
Rejecting the opposition put up by the Advocate General to the Court taking suo moto action, the judgment stated :
"where there is gross negligence on part of public authorities and government, 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".
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