Allahabad High Court orders removal of controversial ‘name and shame’ hoardings

'No powers for Police or Executive to display personal records of a person to public at large'

March 09, 2020 02:31 pm | Updated 04:41 pm IST - Lucknow

A banner naming anti-CAA protesters erected near Hazratganj intersection in Lucknow on Friday.

A banner naming anti-CAA protesters erected near Hazratganj intersection in Lucknow on Friday.

Allahabad High Court on Monday directed the Lucknow administration to remove forthwith the controversial ‘name and shame’ hoardings of those arrested during protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act .

“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,” a Division Bench of Chief Justice Govind Mathur and Justice Ramesh Sinha said.

The Bench also asked the District Magistrate of Lucknow to submit a report on the action taken by March 16.

Rejecting the State's arguments against the Court taking the case suo motu , the Bench said , "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 further observed that the placement of personal data of selected persons "reflects colorable exercise of powers" by the government.  

"Advocate General failed to satisfy us as to why the personal data of few persons have been placed on banners though in the State of Uttar Pradesh [when] there are lakhs of accused persons who are facing serious allegations pertaining to commission of crimes whose personal details have not been subjected to publicity," the High Court said in its 14-page order.

'Accused are not fugitive'

Under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, the power is available to a Court to publish a written proclamation requiring appearance of persons against whom a warrant has been issued and such person is concealing himself to avoid execution of warrant, the court said. No other power is available in the Code to police or the Executive to display personal records of a person to public at large, it stated.

"There are certain provisions empowering the investigating agencies or other Executives to take picture of accused for the purpose of their identification and record but that too is not open for publication. The only time these photographs be published is to have assistance in the apprehension of a fugitive from justice," said the court.

Commenting on the legality of the hoardings, the court said ,"no law is in existence permitting the State to place the banners with personal data of the accused from whom compensation is to be charged." The accused persons are the accused from whom some compensation is to be recovered and in no manner they are fugitive, it said.

In a controversial move, the police and the administration put up several hoardings in Lucknow identifying those accused of violence during the protests against the CAA in December last, triggering fears among those named. The names, photographs and residential addresses of the accused are listed in the hoardings.

They have been asked to pay for the damage to public and private property within a stipulated time or have their properties seized by the district administration. The total damage listed in the hoardings amounts to ₹1.55 crore. As many as 57 persons have been identified in the hoardings.

One of them, with 28 names, put up at the Hazratganj intersection, next to the statue of B.R. Ambedkar, asks them to pay up over Rs. 64 lakh.

In a rare Sunday sitting , the Allahabad High Court pulled up the Uttar Pradesh government for the controversial hoardings. The Division Bench had taken up the matter suo motu .

Uttar Pradesh Advocate General Raghvendra Singh while accepting absence of any statute permitting executive authorities to put such banners, had opposed the petition by submitting that the object of displaying personal details of the individuals "is to deter the mischief mongers from causing damage to public and private property."

The State had also questioned the territorial jurisdiction of the court in Allahabad and argued that the court "erred in invoking public interest jurisdiction in the instant matter, that being available to under privileged section of the society only." The persons whose personal details are given in the banners are capable enough to agitate their grievance, if any, at their own, the State told the court.

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