A sanctioned injustice
A year ago, UP Chief Minister Adityanath had claimed that law and order in Uttar Pradesh had become a 'model for the country'. Not to delve into the wider connotations of this statement, a recent incident appears to be a strict aberration from the bold claim. In a widely criticised step, UP police and administration put up several hoardings in Lucknow, revealing those accused of violence during the protests against the CAA in December 2019 with names, photographs and residential addresses of the accused flashed in the hoardings. The police and administration, while in pursuance of their objective to make the offenders pay for damage to public property amounting to Rs 1.55 crore, offered the privacy of certain people on a plate for unruly elements to exploit. A gross violation of the state's own obligation to ensure the safety of its people. As many as 57 people had their names and addresses flashed by hoardings for anyone to take note of. The case also points to selective shaming of individuals. While there have been manifold accusations in the anti-CAA protests; only 57 people have been targetted. Collectively, the step has made the UP police and administration appear in a very poor light. Taking suo motu cognisance of this gross injustice, the Allahabad High court directed the Lucknow administration to remove the hoardings and asked the Lucknow DM to file a compliance report by March 16. The High Court asserted 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". The court's words strike through the extreme measure taken by the UP police and administration in what amounts to an utterly shameful act. The bench instructively pointed out how barring a court's authority (under CrPC, 1973) to publish a written proclamation requiring the appearance of persons against whom a warrant has been issued, there exists no other authority to police or the Executive to display personal records of a person publicly. If deterrence was the aim to keep mischief mongers away, such a step is an absolute failure of maintaining law and order. It is important to note that the Allahabad High Court acted suo motu in the case. The first hearing of this PIL occurred on Sunday afternoon with final directive coming on Monday for removing the controversial hoardings. An aware judiciary does the tremendous effort of restoring faith in the justice machinery, especially when the executive is lacking the moral ground in maintaining law and order. And while the judiciary saved the day for those whose privacy has been mocked by the state administration only because they are accused, it has been a new low for the Executive in Uttar Pradesh. Through the facilitation of gross public unjust, UP police and administration have plunged to a new low in prestige. While it may not be connected, such activities do not instil public confidence in state machinery. If anything, it exposes the latter as a hard-hitting reactionary authority pursuing deterrence at any cost.