The Centre today told the Supreme Court that neither the courts nor the Election Commission can de-recognise political parties for calling bandhs that result in large-scale destruction of public property.
The Centre quoted a 2002 judgment delivered after the Congress had moved Kerala High Court against the CPI for frequently calling bandhs — complete shutdowns, which are illegal — under the ruse of calling hartals, which are optional. According to the top court’s judgment, bandhs are illegal but hartals are not.
The Congress had then claimed the CPI was indulging in unconstitutional activities by enforcing its hartals by force, coercion and intimidation and should be de-registered as a party by the Election Commission under the Representation of the People Act.
The high court had upheld its claims but the Supreme Court shot it down. The top court had said that in the absence of an express provision in law giving the poll panel power to review its own decisions, it cannot de-register any party.
Quoting from that judgment, solicitor-general R.F. Nariman said since the panel was carrying out quasi-judicial functions, it could not conduct any inquiry and take action against any party.
Under the judgment, the panel can only take action in cases where a party has registered itself by fraud, changed its nomenclature and rules of association or declared that it does not follow the Constitution etc.
The Centre’s stand came in response to a court notice seeking its opinion on whether parties could be de-registered for calling bandhs that cause large-scale destruction of public property.
The court is dealing with PILs that have drawn its attention to the large-scale violence during the Gujjar agitation in Rajasthan and anti-lower caste violence in Haryana which resulted in a loss of Rs 33 crore to the railways by way of disruptions.
A bench, comprising Justices G.S. Singhvi and S.J. Mukhopadhyaya, had asked the state of Haryana and the Centre to explain whether, in the name of peaceful agitation by a political outfit or a group of persons, the state administration can allow (directly or indirectly) disruption of rail and road traffic.
It had also sought to know whether, in the event of disruption of rail and road traffic, it was the responsibility of the state to bring before law the persons responsible for it.
The court also sought to know in the event loss was suffered by the railways (direct or indirect) on account of disruption of movement of trains (passenger as well as goods), whether the state should be asked to reimburse the railways.
It wanted to know what guidelines, if any, should be laid down by the court to ensure such incidents do not recur and public property is not damaged by people who indulge in illegal disruption of rail and road traffic.
After hearing the solicitor-general, the court adjourned the case but not before pulling up Haryana for wishing away the Rs 33-crore loss to the railways as a notional loss.
“Actual loss is only Rs 7 lakh, rest is notional by way of loss of freight traffic,” an affidavit filed by the state had claimed.
The bench rejected the affidavit and expressed unhappiness with the Haryana government’s stand on compliance with the SC, ST Atrocities (Prevention) Act in view of the violence against lower castes in Haryana.
The bench directed the principal secretary (home) to explain the state stand through an affidavit in seven days, both on reimbursing Rs 33 crore to the railways and compliance with the act.