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The Kerala High Court has told prominent Congress leaders in the state that ignorance of the law is no defence while rejecting their contention that they were not aware that the court had stipulated a seven day notice for any hartal to be called in the state.

The state youth Congress president Dean Kuriakose and some local leaders were asked to pay the costs for the damage called during an impro[ptu statewide hartal they had called through Facebook to protest the killing of two of their party cadres by goons belonging to the rukling CPI(M).  The court has fixed March 18 to coinsider whether Kuriakose and others were in contempt of the court. Last week, the HC  had asked Kuriakose to give compensation for the damages incurred during the flash hartal it called. The Division Bench led by Chief Justice Hrishikesh Roy also ordered that Kuriakose should be termed a convict in all the cases that have been registered across the state in association with hartal held on Monday.

 In early January, the Court passed an order banning flash “hartals” and decreed that any group that wishes to call for a “hartal” should give seven days prior notice; any citizen can approach the Court, challenging the “hartal” during the seven-day notice period. According to one estimate, between 2005 and 2015, Kerala lost an equivalent of two years or approximately 700 mandays due to “hartals”. Last year alone witnessed 97 “hartals”, bringing life to a standstill and bleeding the state of approximately Rs 200 crore a day. It was in view of the intense difficulties faced by the people due to the frequent “hartals” in the state, that the Court issued guidelines for calling “hartals” and mandated the seven-day notice. In the case of Kasargod incident, the state-wide “hartal” was called by the Youth Congress leader on February 18 through a Facebook post on the night of February 17. Last year, there were instances of certain fundamentalist groups calling for a “hartal” through a whatsApp message..

–India Legal Bureau

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