PFI’s Flash Hartal Illegal : Kerala High Court Initiates Suo Motu Contempt Proceedings, Directs Police To Take Strict Measures
One is really most ashamed, aghast and appalled to learn from the leading website portal – LiveLaw known world over for its most authentic reporting that none other than the Kerala High Court itself in a learned, laudable, landmark and latest case law titled Kerala Chamber of Commerce and Industry v. State of Kerala and Malyalavedi v. State of Kerala has strongly condemned and initiated suo motu proceedings against the leaders of Popular Front of India (PFI), noting the illegal call for flash hartal in the State, which was earlier banned by the Court. It is the common man who suffers the most for no fault of his and so also a common woman and children who go to school but due to hartal are compelled to stay at home and in many cases are even caught in the violence and suffer injuries also by being caught in the crossfire! It must be mentioned here that visuals very clearly showed hartal supporters pelting stones at the Kerala State Transport Corporation (KSRTC) bus at Panamaram village in Wayanad district. The bus was going to Kozhikode. KSRTC buses were also attacked furiously in Kozhikode, Kochi, Alappuzha and Kollam. Even in the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram, an autorickshaw and a car were seen in a damaged state after being attacked in Poonthura. These are just the initial reports. The whole day is yet to pass as I am writing this.
As we know, the PFI had called for dawn-to-dusk hartal starting from 6 am to 6 pm in the Kerala State today that is 23 September, 2022 following the arrest of its leaders by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) yesterday. I had myself seen in different news channels how all hell broke loose with even private vehicles like cars and jeeps not being spared, being smashed and burnt and what not in protest against the NIA raid. This is really just not done and is most condemnable!
Not just this, we saw how even two police officers were attacked by the hartal supporters of PFI group at Pallimukku in Kollam district. Suffice it to say: How can any country tolerate this unprovoked violence with innocents being targeted shamelessly, senselessly and mercilessly and still take it just lying down without doing anything in return? So it is a no-brainer that the Court was left with no other option but to step in promptly which it did accordingly for which it has to be applauded in no uncertain terms!
It must be mentioned right at the outset that a Division Bench of the Kerala High Court comprising of Hon’ble Mr Justice AK Jayasankaran Nambiar and Hon’ble Mr Justice Mohammed Nias CP observed without mincing any words whatsoever that stringent action must be taken against the violators of the Court order. It must be noted that the Bench stated in the order while saying that it is suo motu initiating separate action for contempt that, “The action of the aforementioned persons in calling for the hartal without following the procedure contemplated in our earlier order, prima facie, amounts to contempt of the directions of this Court in the order aforementioned.”
In hindsight, it may be recalled that the Kerala High Court had previously in an order dated 7.1.2019 issued directions to ensure that a call for hartal or general strike does not have the effect of affecting the fundamental rights of those who do not align with the cause of those calling for the hartal and had mandated 7-days prior notice for declaring hartal. The Court had made it absolutely clear that flash hartals, namely those hartals/strikes called without adhering to the procedure of giving seven days clear public notice, would be deemed illegal / unconstitutional entailing adverse consequences to the persons/party calling for the hartal. While condemning the calling of flash hartal by the PFI party against the arrest of its top leaders by NIA, the Court initiated suo motu proceedings against it.
While adding more to it, the Court added the Popular Front of India which was represented by State General Secretary and Sri A Abdul Sathar, State General Secretary Popular Front of India, Kerala State Committee as respondents in the matter. It must be also stated here that in the wake of this situation, the Kerala High Court issued the following commendable directions: –
(1) The police establishment in the State shall ensure that adequate measures are put in place to prevent any damage/destruction to public/private property of Government/citizens 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.
(2) The police establishment shall also keep in mind the provisions of the relevant Penal laws, including the provisions of Damage to Private Property and Payment of Compensation Act, 2019 as also the provisions of Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code while registering cases against those found to be flouting the law. Adequate police protection shall also be granted to all public utility services that apprehend violence, at the hands of those supporting the illegal hartal. We take note of the submission of the learned Director General of Prosecution – Sri TA Shaji that Circulars/instructions to the above effect have already been issued by the State Police Chief last evening.
(3) We note with some concern, that in the Media reports about the flash hartal today, there is a mere mention of the call for a flash hartal, without mentioning the details of the interim order passed by this Court which has the effect of rendering such calls for hartal without seven days public notice, as illegal. We, therefore, deem it necessary to once again request the Media to ensure that whenever such illegal flash hartals are called for, and it is apparent that the said hartal called is in violation of the orders passed by this Court, the public be duly informed of the said fact. This, in our view, would suffice to a large extent, in allaying the apprehensions of the general public as regards the legality of the call for hartal and also dissuade providers of public utility services from heeding to such calls for illegal hartals in future.
Having said this, it must also be mentioned here that the matter has been posted by the Kerala High Court for 29.09.2022 for the report of the State Government. Once the State Government submits its report to the High Court, then the case will proceed ahead. It is thus quite ostensible that the Kerala High Court has taken very strong exception of the callous manner in which the strike call has been given and the manner in which violence broke out in different parts due to the call of this strike.
It must be certainly mentioned here that in different news channels we see that it is being widely reported that there are mainly three primary objectives behind NIA’s surgical strike on PFI all across India in which over 100 PFI leaders have been arrested from all across the country. The first and the foremost purpose is decoding the entire PFI network. It is being also widely reported that NIA intends to break the network of PFI in all those states where even a single member of PFI is present. The second major purpose of this raid is to find out the sources of fundings for PFI. The third and final objective which merits due consideration is to gather evidence on the suspected role of PFI in incidents of communal violence and riots.
In a nutshell, it certainly merits no reiteration that it is definitely the primary responsibility of the PFI to comply lock, stock and barrel with what the Kerala High Court has directed so forthrightly while taking suo motu cognizance of the entire matter. It is in PFI’s own best interest and so also in the interest of the nation that it persuades its members to refrain from indulging in any manner in unprovoked violence which will do good to none and will only serve to attract most serious charges under various penal laws and anti-terror laws! How can any organisation ever justify such unprovoked violence by targeting those who have got nothing to do with the action initiated by the NIA?
More to the point: Why can’t PFI just take the proper route and fight the legal battle as is expected also from every Indian citizen whenever any action is taken against them? It must be noted that while releasing a statement, the PFI State Committee said that it considered the NIA’s arrest of PFI national and state leaders as “unjust” and “part of atrocities by the State”. If this is so then PFI must definitely fight the legal battle with the help of its legal team as every other good citizen of this country does and not resort to ugly street battle most senselessly as it will only serve to endanger their own credibility and so also the lives of their own members which would be most preposterous by any yardstick that can never be justified under any circumstances!
It is a no-brainer that if PFI is not in any way associated with terror outfits then it has nothing to worry as the Courts will definitely come to their rescue and they must prove their mettle by arguing their case with all the defence that they have with them! But if it is associated with various terror outfits and if it thinks that violence will deter Centre, Courts and NIA from acting against it and their members then it is definitely hugely mistaken! We all who are citizens of India have to believe most strongly in the “rule of law”, always do our best to uphold it and act accordingly. More accurately, it must be said that no one of us is entitled under any circumstances to ever take law in our own hands and if we dare to do so then we should be ready to pay the heavy price for having done so.
Moreover, to say the least, it must be said on a very sober note that no organisation in any way under any circumstances has the unfettered right to resort to violence and arson under the garb of protest and this has been held also by the top court and so also by various High Courts also from time to time nor has the veto right to ever resort to hartal without giving the mandatory notice of seven days as mentioned above which is indispensable and here too hartal has to be the last resort and not the first resort that just because some leaders get arrested that hartal is called for without following due procedure as laid down under the law! One still fervently hopes that good sense will now prevail on PFI and it will from now onwards strongly refrain in future from haphazardly resorting to flash hartal like we saw now as the Kerala High Court has directed while taking strongest exception to flash hartal and act fully, firmly and finally in accordance with law which is definitely in their own best long term interests also! There can be just no denying or disputing it!
Last but not the least: If PFI fails to act as per law even now as they must being the citizens of India then it is not just the NIA but also the police, CID, CBI and all other law enforcing agencies that will bay for them for which they can then blame no one but their ownself for having most senselessly and brazenly refused to submit themselves to the “due process of law”. Now definitely the ball is in the court of the PFI! PFI must learn the right lessons from what happened in Jammu and Kashmir and how the fringe and radical elements are now lying in the margins after the decimation of so many terror groups! It must be said at the risk of repetition that violence definitely never pays and it only serves to attract various penal and anti-terror laws and the earlier the PFI realizes this and act as per law the better it shall be for them in their own long term interests and so also their members who always lead from the front yet pay the maximum by being in jail for the longest term!