Chief Justice Govind Mathur (L) and Justice Ramesh Sinha (R)
Chief Justice Govind Mathur (L) and Justice Ramesh Sinha (R)
Litigation News

"Nothing but unwarranted interference in privacy", Allahabad HC orders removal of banners displaying anti-CAA riots accused [READ ORDER]

"This fundamental right provides lungs to the edifice of our entire constitutional system. A slightest injury to it is impermissible", the Court said.

Meera Emmanuel

The Allahabad High Court on Monday ordered the Uttar Pradesh Government to take down posters that had displayed images of persons accused of having destroyed public property during Anti-CAA protests, terming the same as a violation of Article 21.

The Court passed the ruling after finding that,

"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."
Allahabad High Court

The Bench of Chief Justice Govind Mathur and Justice Ramesh Sinha had taken up the matter suo motu on Sunday morning.

The banners in question had displayed pictures of accused who had allegedly caused damage to public property during the anti-CAA-NRC protests that took place on December 19, 2019.

Personal details of over 50 accused, mentioning that they are "Joint and Severally" liable to pay Rs. 64,37,637/- to the government were thereby exhibited.

After reserving its judgment on Sunday evening, the Court today found the same to be violative of the fundamental right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution. The Bench emphasised that,

"This fundamental right provides lungs to the edifice of our entire constitutional system. A slightest injury to it is impermissible as that may be fatal for our values designed and depicted in the preamble of the constitution."

Allahabad High Court

The Court also pointed out that there are limits to when the State can take a picture of accused persons in criminal cases. Importantly, the Court noted that even in such a scenario, the same is not open to publication. As noted in the order passed today,

"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."

The Court proceeded to detail how the state Government's action in this case did not satisfy the tests laid down in the Supreme Court's KS Puttaswamy case concerning in which cases an individual's privacy can be overridden in larger public interest. In this regard, the Court pointed out that,

"The accused persons are the accused from whom some compensation is to be recovered and in no manner they are fugitive. Learned Advocate General also failed to satisfy us as to why placement of the banners is necessary for a democratic society for a legitimate aim."

The Court further opined that the State's actions did not appear to have any reasonable connection with the purported object of deterring persons from engaging in illegal activities. The State was also unable to satisfy the Court that the move was proportional. Rather, the Bench remarked that,

"As a matter of fact, the placement of personal data of selected persons reflects colorable exercise of powers by the Executive."
Allahabad High Court

In yesterday's hearing, the State, through Advocate General Raghvendra Singh, had contested the jurisdiction of the High Court to take suo motu cognisance over the issue. It was argued that the High Court ought not to interfere in the matter suo motu by invoking its PIL jurisdiction.

The High Court, in turn, observed that usually the judiciary only acts when a party approaches the Court, mostly in adverse litigation. However, the Bench proceeded to add,

"... 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 in such matters is not required to wait necessarily for a person to come before it to ring the bell of justice."

Allahabad High Court

The Court further observed that,

" court can shut its eyes if a public unjust is happening just before it."
Allahabad High Court

As far as the present case was concerned, the Bench dismissed the State's objection on finding that, "in the instant matter the act of the district and police administration of Lucknow is alleged to be in conflict with the right of life and liberty. Hence, the suo motu action by the Court is justified."

In particular, the Bench also found no merit in the Advocate General's submission that the High Court lacked territorial jurisdiction in the matter, since the offending posters were put up in Lucknow. Inter alia, the Bench asserted that it had the authority to take up the issue suo motu while observing that,

"... the cause is not about personal injury caused to the persons whose personal details are given in the banner but the injury caused to the precious constitutional value and its shameless depiction by the administration. The cause as such is undemocratic functioning of government agencies which are supposed to treat all members of public with respect and courtesy and at all time should behave in manner that upholds constitutional and democratic values."

Allahabad High Court

In view of these observations, the Court proceeded to order the Government to take down the banners in question, and submit a compliance report on the same by March 16. The order states,

"... the District Magistrate, Lucknow and the Commissioner of Police, Lucknow Commissionerate, Lucknow are directed to remove the banners from the road side forthwith. The State of Uttar Pradesh is directed not to place such banners on road side containing personal data of individuals without having authority of law."

Allahabad High Court

[Read the Order]

Bar and Bench - Indian Legal news