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High Court comes down heavily against bandh culture

Restraints on media; Indictment on Govt failure to contain bandhs

An empty city road during HNLC-called 24-hour bandh on Wednesday. (ST)
An empty city road during HNLC-called 24-hour bandh on Wednesday. (ST)

SHILLONG: The High Court of Meghalaya on Wednesday restrained the media from publicizing the statement of organizations calling bandhs, strike, hartal, road blockade and holding of rallies in state.
In response to a request from Meghalaya DGP Rajiv Mehta to restrain media from carrying statements of HNLC and other organizations calling bandhs and other forms of agitations, the Full Bench comprising Chief Justice Umanath Singh, Justice T Nandakumar  Singh, during a hearing on a writ petition, banned the media from carrying statements on agitations with “unlawful design”.
The Court was hearing the writ petition filed by the Registrar General of the Court Versus Meghalaya government on the effect of bandh called by HNLC.
The Court directed that “the statements of HNLC or any organization which may disturb the even tempo of day-to-day public life and cause violation of fundamental rights of citizens in particular under Article 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India relating to strike, bandh, hartal, road blockade and holding of rallies with unlawful design shall not be issued by any of the print and electronic media”.
“In case of violation of this order, the Court may not only proceed under the Contempt of Courts Act, but it is also directed that the State Government shall register criminal cases under appropriate provisions of the law”, the Court said.
Besides, the Court also directed that the state government will authorize the local administration to take the assistance of para-military forces which are positioned in Shillong in sufficient strength for “holding Flag March to dispel the fear from the mind of common citizens, and also for use depending upon the law and order situation in the city of Shillong as well as across the State of Meghalaya”.
The Court also asked the state government and the CEO/In-charge of Municipal Corporation, to issue notices to all shops and business establishments, in particular, the medical shops and hotels and also to taxi owners, “as to why their licenses  cannot be cancelled for staying away from their lawful avocation and for keeping their establishments closed despite repeated press releases of assurance issued by the state government that they will be  provided adequate protection on their place of occupation/business”.
The Court also issued notices to all the central and state government organizations in the state with direction  to file affidavits regarding the position of attendance of staff.
The Court also referred to the orders of the High Courts of Kerala, Calcutta and Gauhati during the hearing. The next hearing of the case will come up on June 10.
Earlier the Court said that it appears that 20% of High Court staff and lawyers practicing in the District Court of West Jaintia Hills District, Jowai, are absent on account of calling of bandh. “The district court, West Jaintia Hills district could not function because of absence of lawyers. The bandh has been called by HNLC which is said to have been banned as unlawful association for a further period of five years by the order dated 25.05.2015 passed by the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Tribunal, Delhi”, the court observed
The Court also observed that it has become a regular feature in the day to day life of Meghalaya, particularly, the city of Shillong to observe bandh “even on a  hoax call in the name of this organization said to be operating from the territory of Bangladesh with a limited and dwindling cadre”.
According to the Court, the legal position that emerges is that  since calls of bandh infringe the fundamental rights of the citizens, inter alia, under Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution, the organizers and sponsors calling bandh shall be held liable under the law to recoup and make good the loss and damages; and even the State Government can be asked to pay damages to citizens, if it fails to stop bandh, strike and hartal and the essential services should always remain available in all eventualities.
“In case of necessity, the district administration can be authorized to call para military force to deal with the situation”, the court added.

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