Bandhs unlawful and unconstitutional: Gauhati High Court
Calling for bandhs was almost becoming a part of the culture here in Assam. Recently, almost every day, a bandh was called by one or the other organisation to show a form of protest. In many cases violence was reported where irate mobs attacked vehicles and business establishments which defied their call for bandh.
These bandhs were causing losses to the tune of a whooping Rs 6,790 lakhs per day. The state witnessed 13 bandhs last year which was mentioned by Assam parliamentary affairs minister, Chandra Mohan Patowary, during the state assembly session in October 2018.
In a historic judgment, the Gauhati High Court, on March 19, passed a circular declaring bandhs and blockades called by different organisation as illegal and unconstitutional and also issued various guidelines to stop bandhs which has been plaguing the state. The judgement came after the court heard a petition filed by the Lower Assam Inter District Stage Carriage Bus Owners’ Association.
Justice Ujjal Bhuyan, in his judgement, said that the any organisation or body calling bandh will be liable to be prosecuted under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, National Highways Act, 1989 and would include those preventing people from going to their duties. They will also be booked under relevant sections.
A number of guidelines have been framed in the form of direction like lodging FIR against organisations who will call for Assam bandh or rail/road blockade. The commissioner of police, Kamrup (Metro) or any of his subordinates can lodge the FIR and produce the subject in the Pan Bazar police station within 24 hours of such bandhs or blockades being called.
In case a bandh covering more than one district, rail or road of similar nature, the jurisdictional superintendent of police shall lodge the FIR at the competent police station within 24 hours of such bandh or blockade. In all cases an investigating officer will carry out the investigation and file charge sheet before the competent criminal court immediately so that the accused can be tried as fast as possible.
Further, the court has directed the Assam Police Accountability Commission to monitor the filing of FIR and registration of cases. If any of the guidelines are not followed seriously appropriate actions will be taken by the police accountability commission in accordance with the law.
Further, the commission shall submit a monitoring report to the Judicial Registrar of the Gauhati High Court once every three months plus the commissioner and the secretary to government of Assam in the home and political department shall also file contempt petition against the organisers and the key people of the organisation.
The monitoring reports which will be submitted by the Assam Police Accountability Commission will be maintained by the Judicial Registrar of the Gauhati High Court and the home and political department of the government of Assam shall make assessments of the damage caused to the state which will be compensated by the bandh organisers and the main office bearers. A Bandh Loss Compensation Fund will be set up by the home and political department of the government of Assam within three months which will be maintained by retired judges of district and sessions courts with also one administrative officer.
Now, the question that comes to the mind is how effective will it be? Well, just a day after the judgement was passed various organisations along with local residents staged a protest by blocking roads bordering Nagaland at Merapani in Golaghat District against the NSCN for assaulting and extorting money from traders from the bordering areas of Assam. However no action has been taken by the authorities as to the judgement passed in the Gauhati High Court.
Salient points of the order passed by the Gauhati High Court:
• FIR to be filed within 24 Hours
• Home department to be Informed within 7 days
• Charge sheet to be filed against bandh organisers
• Assam Police Accountability Commission will SP’s carrying out investigation
• Home department to file contempt cases
• Departmental proceeding SPs who did not file charge sheet against bandh callers
• High Court to file contempt case against home department if no contempt case filed by them
• Home department will assess the damage that will be recovered from the office bearers of bandh callers
• A Bandh Loss Compensation Fund will be set up
• The money recovered will be kept in fund and then loss disbursement will be carried out