A vacation bench of Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday referred to a larger bench the Uttar Pradesh government’s petition challenging an Allahabad high court (HC) order that directed it to pull down hoardings bearing photos and details of people accused of destroying public property.
While acknowledging that there cannot be vandalism and wrongdoers should be brought to book, the court said the state action should be “empowered by the law" and currently, there is no law backing such an action by the state.
The case was heard by a two-judge bench of justices U.U. Lalit and Aniruddha Bose. Chief Justice S.A. Bobde will set up the larger bench later.
After violence flared during a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in Lucknow in December, the Lucknow police identified around 50 people for allegedly involved in rioting. The police served notices on them and put up hoardings at major road crossings identifying them, which were ordered to be removed by the HC on 9 March. The state government moved the SC against the HC order.
Appearing for a former police officer, senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi told the apex court that in the absence of evidence or conviction, such hoardings were an open invitation to lynch the accused. The country has no policy to name and shame even convicted criminals, Singhvi said, adding in such a case, “even a man walking in the street is liable to be lynched."
Appearing for the UP government, solicitor general Tushar Mehta argued that the accused were featured on the hoardings only after a competent authority examined records, issued notices and heard everyone. He said 57 people involved in 95 cases were identified, and charged with rioting and vandalism.
Mehta rejected the argument that the hoardings infringe on privacy, saying there were exceptions to the fundamental right to privacy.
The bench acknowledged the importance of the case and said the court will hear it next week.