Kerala PFI hartal: HC initiates suo motu proceedings against leaders

The court referred to its earlier order from 2019 prohibiting flash strikes without advance public notice, and noted that the PFI hartal prima facie amounted to contempt of the court’s directions.
Kerala High Court building
Kerala High Court building
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The Kerala High Court on Friday, September 23, initiated suo motu contempt of court proceedings against the Popular Front of India (PFI) and its state General Secretary A Abdul Sathar for calling for a flash hartal in the state. In an earlier order in January 2019, the court had prohibited flash hartals or strikes called without giving seven days’ public notice. The PFI had called for a dawn to dusk hartal on Friday to protest the nationwide raids at the organisation’s offices and also arrests of many of its leaders by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on the previous day. A division bench consisting of Justices AK Jayasankaran Nambiar and Mohammed Nias CP said that despite the Kerala High Court’s 2019 order, a call for a flash hartal was made on Thursday by the PFI.

The court on Friday observed that despite its 2019 order, the PFI called for a flash hartal without following the procedure contemplated in it and that prima facie, it amounted to contempt of the directions of the court. While initiating suo motu contempt of court proceedings, the court also directed the police to ensure adequate measures to prevent any damage or destruction to public and private property of those who do not support the call for hartal.

"In particular, the police shall also take steps to monitor any such activity by the supporters of the illegal hartal and shall place before this Court a report giving details of such instances and the extent of damage, if any, caused to public/private property. The said details would be necessary for this Court to take remedial action to recover such losses from the perpetrators of the illegality," Justice Nambiar said.

The court, in its order, also noted that media houses were reporting the news of ‘flash hartal’ without mentioning the details of the order passed by the court declaring it as illegal without seven days’ public notice. It asked the media to ensure that whenever such flash hartals are called for in violation of the court’s orders, the public must be duly informed, so as to allay their apprehensions and also to dissuade providers of public utility services from heeding to such calls. The court has now posted the matter for the report of the state government on September 29.

In an earlier order on January 7, 2019, the Kerala High Court had noted that flash hartals would be deemed illegal/unconstitutional, entailing adverse consequences to the persons/party calling for the hartal. “Our law contemplates that when there is a conflict of fundamental rights, the law must lean in favour of the paramount collective interest. In the instant cases, the rights of the majority of private citizens, including students and daily wage workers to pursue their academic pursuits or earn their livelihood, would definitely outweigh the fundamental right of persons calling for the strike/hartal,” the court had said in its order. 

It had issued a direction that any person or group calling for a strike must give seven days' public notice, to enable citizens who are opposed to the call for strike to approach the court.  The notice period would also allow the state or district administration to take necessary measures to safeguard the interests of the people of the state, the court had said. 

With PTI inputs

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