Monday, October 2, 2023

Brutal Crackdown

Former judges highlighted the retaliation by UP government against those protesting the remarks made against Prophet Mohammad. This was a subversion of the rule of law and made a mockery of the Constitution, they said

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In what can be seen as a censure to the UP government, six former judges of the Supreme Court and various High Courts and six senior advocates wrote to Chief Justice of India NV Ramana on June 14 about the situation there. They urged the apex court to take suo motu cognizance of recent acts of illegal detention, bulldozing of residences and police violence on protesters and those in police custody following protests against objectionable remarks made by certain BJP spokespersons. 

The letter was signed by former judges of the apex court Justices B Sudarshan Reddy, V Gopala Gowda and AK Ganguly, former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court AP Shah, former judge of Madras High Court Justice K Chandru, and former judge of Karnataka High Court Mohammed Anwar. The senior lawyers who signed the letter include senior advocates Shanti Bhushan, Indira Jaising, CU Singh, Sriram Panchu, Prashant Bhushan and Anand Grover.

According to the petition, recent remarks by certain BJP spokespersons (since suspended from office) on Prophet Mohammed resulted in protests in multiple parts of the country, and particularly UP. It is alleged that instead of giving protestors an opportunity of being heard and engaging in peaceful protests, the UP administration appeared to have sanctioned taking violent action against such individuals.

The letter claimed that the chief minister officially exhorted officials “to take such action against those guilty that it sets an example so that no one commits a crime or takes law into their hands in future”. He further directed that the National Security Act, 1980, and the Uttar Pradesh Gangsters and Anti-Social Activities (Prevention) Act, 1986, be invoked against those found guilty of unlawful protests. It is these remarks that have emboldened the police to brutally and unlawfully torture protestors, the letter stated. 

It added that pursuant to this, the UP police arrested more than 300 people and registered FIRs against protesting citizens. “Videos of young men in police custody being beaten with lathis, houses of protesters being demolished without notice or any cause of action, and protestors from the minority Muslim community being chased and beaten by the police, are circulating on social media, shaking the conscience of the nation,” the letter noted. 

The petition said that such a brutal clampdown by a ruling administration was an unacceptable subversion of the rule of law and a violation of the rights of citizens, and makes a mockery of the Constitution and fundamental rights guaranteed by the State. The coordinated manner in which the police and development authorities acted lead to the clear conclusion that demolitions are a form of collective extrajudicial punishment, attributable to a state policy which is illegal.

“The mettle of the judiciary is tested in such critical times. On many occasions, including in the recent past, the judiciary has faced such challenges and emerged with distinction as the custodian of the rights of the people,” the letter read.

It highlighted some recent examples of suo motu action taken by the Supreme Court—in the migrant workers matter and the Pegasus case. In the same spirit and in its role as the custodian of the Constitution, the former judges and advocates urged the top court to take immediate suo motu action to arrest the deteriorating law and order situation in UP. It specifically mentioned the high-handedness of the police and state authorities and the brutal clampdown on the fundamental rights of citizens. The letter said that they hope and trust the Supreme Court will rise to the occasion and not let the citizens and the Constitution down at this critical juncture.

On June 16, a two-judge vacation bench of the Supreme Court, comprising Justice AS Bopanna and Justice Vikram Nath heard fresh pleas by Jamiat-Ula­ma-i-Hind seeking to stop demolitions in UP in the aftermath of the violence in Kanpur. It granted three days to the state government and other respondents to file their reply and objections on the alleged use of bulldozers for “retaliatory demolition” of the houses of riot- and stone-pelting accused.

The bench said that the process of law must be followed for demolition of alleged unauthorised structures and that there must be a sense among citizenry that the rule of law prevails in the country.

The Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind on June 13 had approached the Supreme Court seeking an appropriate direction to the Uttar Pradesh government to ensure that no further demolitions are carried out. It also asked for action to be taken on those officials who were responsible for the houses allegedly being demolished, which is in violation of the rule of law and municipal laws enacted by Uttar Pradesh. It said that the Supreme Court had already ordered a stay on the demolitions that were being carried out as a punitive measure in Northwest Delhi in similar circumstances. “We seek appropriate directions to initiate action against those officials concerned responsible for the houses allegedly demolished in violation of the rule of law and the municipal laws enacted by the State of Uttar Pradesh,” the petition filed before the Supreme Court said. The Court orally told UP “to make sure that nothing untoward happens in the meanwhile”. The state asserted that the due process was followed.

In a related development on May 9 this year, the Supreme Court had declined to entertain petitions against the South Delhi Municipal Corporation’s anti-encroachment drive in Shaheen Bagh area and asked the CPI(M) and other petitioners to move the Delhi High Court in the matter.

The Supreme Court on April 20 had ordered a status quo by putting a stop to the demolition drive by North Delhi Municipal Committee in northwest Delhi’s Jahangirpuri, which witnessed violence on the occasion of Hanuman Jayanti.

At an event in King’s College, London, on June 20, Supreme Court judge Justice DY Chandrachud said that it wouldn’t be correct to say that the Supreme Court did not take up the bulldozer issue when the demolition was happening in UP. He said that the matter of bulldozer drives in UP’s Prayagraj was taken up on priority by the apex court and as a first step a notice was issued to the state government. 

He further said that the right to life was part of the Indian Constitution, but it does not owe its existence to the Constitution. Justice Chandrachud was speaking on the topic “Protecting human rights and preserving civil liberties: The role of courts in a democracy”.                 

—By Shivam Sharma and India Legal Bureau

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