New Delhi: A day before Gandhi Jayanti this year, the Allahabad high court took suo motu cognisance of the “hurried cremation” of the 19-year-old Dalit woman in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras. In doing so, it quoted Gandhi and said that while it is time to “strengthen our resolve to live up to the ideas which “Bapu” stood for, but, unfortunately ground realities are very different from the high values propagated and practiced by the Father of our Nation”.
Highlighting the “right to decent and dignified last rites/cremation”, the court sought answers from the state authorities.
However, these remarks are only the latest among the string of several orders passed by the high court, questioning the Yogi Adityanath government and its functionaries for several of its actions over the past year.
These orders have ranged from the authorities being asked to take down hoardings disclosing personal details of alleged rioters to seeking details on injured and dead during the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
‘Unwarranted interference in privacy of people’
In the first week of March this year, authorities in Lucknow put up banners with photographs and personal details of over 50 people, asking them to pay compensation for allegedly damaging public property during the anti-CAA protests.
Within days, the Allahabad High Court took suo motu cognisance of the hoardings and said that this was “nothing but an unwarranted interference in privacy of people”. The court said that the cause in the case did not arise because of the injury to people whose personal details were made public, but because of the injury caused to the precious constitutional value and its shameless depiction by the administration”.
The state government challenged the high court’s decision in the Supreme Court, which directed the matter to a three-judge bench on 12 March this year. However, with the Covid-19 pandemic significantly restricting the court’s functioning, the matter is still pending.
Kafeel Khan detained on ‘whim and humour’
In its judgment, the bench comprising Chief Justice Govind Mathur and Justice Saumitra Dayal Singh said the district magistrate who passed the detention order against Khan “had selective reading and selective mention for few phrases from the speech ignoring its true intent”.
It also said that there was a “serious lack of objective material on record” for a “valid subjective satisfaction with the detaining authority” against Khan.
It asserted that the DM’s “subjective satisfaction” — which is necessary for passing an NSA detention order — was not “found to have been reached in a legal and regular manner but on whim and humour”.
Khan was in jail since 29 January, when he was arrested for an anti-CAA speech he delivered at the Aligarh Muslim University on 12 December 2019. Initially, an FIR was filed against him on 13 December for his speech. However, on 13 February 2020, NSA charges were slapped on him for the same speech. His detention was extended twice.
Police excesses, AMU violence
Amid growing displeasure with the Uttar Pradesh government for its handling of the anti-citizenship law protests in December 2019, the Allahabad High Court had stepped in to take cognisance of several allegations about the state’s deteriorating law and order situation.
In one of the orders issued in December 2019, the court had directed the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to probe alleged police violence in the Aligarh Muslim University campus during anti-CAA protests.
After the NHRC submitted its report, the court in February ordered the Yogi government to adhere to its recommendations, which included compensation to six students who were grievously injured and identification of policemen “involved in stray incidents of damaging motorcycles and unnecessarily caning the apprehended students which has no bearing on the task of controlling law and order”.
The court had also taken suo motu cognisance of a letter written by Mumbai-based lawyer Ajay Kumar on 7 January, noting allegations of police atrocities mentioned in two news reports.
In a subsequent hearing in the case on 27 January, the court had sought details from the state authorities on the people killed in police action during the protests, their post mortem reports, details of their injuries, information on the complaints filed against police officials during this time, and details of medical aid given to the protesters.
The matter, which was listed on 17 February, still remains pending.
‘Infringement upon human rights’
The latest in the spate of such orders is the court’s observations in the suo moto PIL that was filed after the Uttar Pradesh police forcibly cremated the body of a 19-year-old Dalit woman in Hathras.
The woman was allegedly raped by four upper caste men on 14 September. She died two weeks later in a Delhi hospital. A huge controversy erupted after the UP Police cremated the girl’s body in the village late night, without allowing the family members a “last look” even as they kept requesting them to wait until sunrise.
In its order passed 12 October, the bench comprising Justices Pankaj Mithal and Ranjan Roy said that the action of the state authorities, “though in the name of law and order situation, is prima facie an infringement upon the human rights of the victim and her family”.
The court also questioned the state authorities, ADG (Law and Order) and the District Magistrate, who were present in the court, about them having made certain comments that the girl was not raped.
As per the order, the court asked ADG Prashant Kumar “whether it was proper for anyone not directly connected with investigation to comment on any evidence relating to the offence alleged specially if the allegation is of rape or to draw conclusions based thereon as to whether offence was committed or not, when the investigation was still pending and such person was not part of the investigation.”
Interventions imminent, says HC lawyer
Allahabad high court lawyer Ujjwal Satsangi told ThePrint that at times, such interventions by the high court “become necessary”.
He said, “This has been in practice ever since the Indian independence, where not only the high court, but also the Supreme Court has time and again taken up matters which actually shake the conscience of the society at large as well as the judges.”
“Of course, some sort of restraint should be shown by courts, but I think the Allahabad High Court is practicing it. It is not taking into cognisance every random instance, but is focusing on selected matters which shake the consciousness of the entire society. In such cases, the involvement of the high court and the Supreme Court becomes imminent,” he added.
ThePrint reached Raghvendra Singh, Advocate General, Uttar Pradesh government through messages, but did not receive a response till the time of publishing this report.