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The Supreme Court today referred the question of law in the matter regarding banners of anti-CAA protestors put up by the Uttar Pradesh Police to a larger Bench.
The Uttar Pradesh government had approached the Supreme Court in appeal against the order of the Allahabad High Court directing for removal of the "name and shame" banners of anti-CAA protesters.
The Vacation Bench of Justices UU Lalit and Aniruddha Bose held,
"The matter involves issues which need further elaboration and consideration by a Bench of sufficient strength."
The Court also granted liberty to the individuals whose pictures and details appear on these banners to file applications for impleadment. There was no order for stay of the High Court's order.
When the matter was taken up today, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the state government, made submissions on the point of right to privacy on the grounds that the entire order of the Allahabad High Court hinged on this right. He said that while this right has various aspects and dimensions, there is also the aspect of waiving this right.
He went on to say that if persons have put themselves in the public gaze while doing an antisocial activity and they are videographed by the media, they cannot claim privacy.
To this, the Bench responded the main question was whether the authorities can display banners with names and faces of the people who are accused of rioting. Justice Bose said,
"State can do things permitted by law. Where is the State's power to do this?"
Justice Lalit added,
"As of now, there is no law that can back your actions."
In response, Mehta took the Court through a precedent laid down by the Supreme Court in R Rajgopal v. State of Tamil Nadu on the issue of privacy, which was affirmed by the nine-Judge Bench in the Puttaswamy judgment. Tushar Mehra also referred to a UK Supreme Court judgment on the issue of waiver of right to privacy.
Justice Lalit then went on to ask if the time granted to the alleged "rioters" for paying of compensation has lapsed. Mehta replied that the time had not lapsed, and that a challenge to the same was pending before the High Court. The judge then said that had the time lapsed, situation could be different.
The Bench went on to express its inclination to refer the matter to a larger bench, in light of a judgment of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom which has "persuasive value".
At this point, Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi sought to make submissions before the Bench. He asked the Bench,
"Since when is it allowed in India to name and shame accused persons?"
"It's a mega blanket approach... Can't have this mega blanket approach in cases of naming and shaming and Part III (of the Constitution)".
Referring to the possible reaction the banners may evoke, Singhvi said,
"This creates the most incendiary atmosphere and incites the public and creates a lynch mob mentality, inviting 'come hit him (accused)'."
Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves, representing a person who features on these banners, said that his client has been assaulted for legally representing people belonging to minorities. Gonsalves says publication of the address on banners is an invitation to the public to assault him again.
Senior Advocate CU Singh agreed with Singhvi's submission that the order of the High Court should not be interfered with.
Another lawyer, representing three accused persons, told the Bench that there is threat to their life on account of the banners in question.
The Court, however, told all the Counsel that the issues involved in the controversy needed to be deliberated upon and considered by a Bench of sufficient strength.
The Bench went on to refer the matter to a larger bench. It was directed that the matter be placed before Chief Justice of India SA Bobde for constitution of an appropriate bench as early as possible in the coming week.
The Court also granted liberty to the persons featuring on these "name and shame" banners to implead themselves in the matter.
It was also made clear that there would be no stay on the Allahabad High Court order.