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‘Name and shame’ posters: Supreme Court refuses to stay Allahabad HC order, refers appeal to larger Bench

File photo of a banner naming anti-CAA protesters erected near Hazratganj intersection in Lucknow.

File photo of a banner naming anti-CAA protesters erected near Hazratganj intersection in Lucknow.   | Photo Credit: Omar Rashid

A Vacation Bench of the Supreme Court on Thursday did not stay an Allahabad High Court order to district and police authorities in Lucknow to “forthwith” remove roadside banners displaying the personal details of select persons accused of “vandalism” during the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) protests in December 2019.

The High Court Bench led by Chief Justice Govind Mathur had on March 9 held that the way-side posters were a violation of individual privacy, a fundamental right which globally “underpins human dignity and key values of a democracy”.

On Thursday, the Vacation Bench of Justices U.U. Lalit and Aniruddha Bose did not interfere with the High Court order.

Noting that the controversy involved “issues which needs further elaboration and consideration”, the Vacation Bench referred the appeal filed by the Uttar Pradesh government to a larger Bench, to be set up by Chief Justice of India S. A. Bobde “immediately”.

It ordered the case to be listed before an appropriate Bench in the coming week. The Supreme Court reopens after Holi vacations on March 16.

Significantly, the Allahabad High Court had ordered the Lucknow District Magistrate and police chief to remove the posters without delay and file a compliance report on March 16. With no express stay of the High Court order by the Supreme Court, it is to be seen if the State would comply and take down the posters.

‘Not covered in law’

During the hearing, Justice Lalit orally remarked that State’s action of displaying the names and personal details of people on roadside banners was not “covered in law”.

Justices Lalit and Bose said there was a difference between videographing a person’s unsocial or riotous behaviour as evidence and the State displaying personal details and photographs of citizens.

The posters had come up even before the 30-day deadline to pay the compensation was over, the Supreme Court found.

Did the State have a right to display their faces in the public domain and give rise to a presumption that they were guilty for all time to come, the court asked the Uttar Pradesh government.

“On one side, there cannot be vandalism. Wrongdoers have to be brought to book. But can the State go two stages beyond and start displaying their faces on posters?” Justice Lalit asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the Uttar Pradesh government.

“Do you know the difference between what an individual and a State can do? An individual can do anything not prohibited by law. A State can do only what the law empowers it to do,” Justice Bose addressed Mr. Mehta.

Mr. Mehta argued that the crux of the High Court order was the right to privacy of individuals featured in the posters. These people were not arbitrarily picked.

A competent authority had applied its mind on 95 cases of vandalism during the anti-CAA protests. It had examined records, issued notice and heard everyone. Finally, 57 people — all featured in the posters — were held responsible, the law officer argued.

“Privacy has many dimensions. If you wield your gun in a riot, you cannot turn around and claim privacy,” Mr. Mehta argued the State’s appeal.

He quoted judgments from foreign jurisdictions to justify the posters.

Senior advocate A.M. Singhvi and advocate Shadan Farasat, appearing for a former IPS officer who features in the posters, said the banners were part of a “name and shame” policy against anti-CAA protestors.

“Uttar Pradesh, a State the size of Europe, has an official policy to name and shame me by putting up my posters across its length and breadth... Even in the case of child rapists and murderers, do we put out their posters? Since when do we have in this country a policy to name and shame them. If there was such policy, an accused on bail walking in the streets would be lynched... Putting up such posters is an open invitation from the State to come and lynch me, to hit me and spit at me. The idea here seems to be though there is no evidence to convict me, there is enough to hang me from the nearest lamp post,” Mr. Singhvi argued.

‘Open invitation to mob’

Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, for another individual on the posters, said there was no video testimony to support the accusation of vandalism.

Mr. Gonsalves said he was representing a lawyer, Mohammed Shoaib. “He has represented minorities in many cases. My picture on a poster is an open invitation from the State to the mob to enter my home and assault me and my family. This is the grossest of acts,” Mr. Gonsalves submitted.

‘Vindictive State’

Senior advocate C.U. Singh said the act of putting up posters reeked of a “vindictive State”.

Justice Lalit reiterated that the question before the courts was whether the “the State machinery and apparatus was justified in resorting to such an act”.

On March 9, the High Court justified its suo motu intervention in the issue, saying that public display of the personal details of citizens on road-side banners was an “undemocratic functioning of government agencies who are supposed to treat all members of public with respect and courtesy and at all time should behave in a manner that upholds constitutional and democratic values”.

It had said the “placement of personal data of selected persons reflects colourable exercise of powers by the Executive”.

The banners had come up at a major road side with personal details of those accused of vandalism during the anti-CAA protests. The posters sought compensation from the accused persons and further to confiscate their property, if they failed to pay compensation.

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Printable version | Sep 26, 2020 11:02:36 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/name-and-shame-posters-sc-does-not-stay-allahabad-hc-order-refers-appeal-to-larger-bench/article31048157.ece

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