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Tackle hartals with a firm hand, Kerala HC tells Govt

K.C. Gopakumar

If the Government feels that it is unable to give proper protection, it should request the Centre to deploy army or paramilitary forces.

Kochi , May 28

A FULL Bench of the Kerala High Court today issued directions to ensure that normal life is not paralysed and the fundamental rights of people are protected during hartals and general strikes in the State.

The Bench comprising the Chief Justice, Mr N. K. Sodhi, Mr Justice J. B. Koshy and Mr Justice A.K. Basheer directed that whenever a hartal or general strike is called for, the Government should take adequate measures to ensure that normal life is not affected. This should be done not by declaring holidays or postponing scheduled examinations but by giving adequate protection to people.

If the Government feels that it is unable to give proper protection, it should request the Central Government to deploy army or paramilitary forces so that there isn't "any constitutional breakdown and violation of fundamental rights".

The court directed that the District Administration should be given sufficient direction to utilise the services of paramilitary forces as provided under Chapter X of the Code of Criminal Procedure to maintain public service if law and order problems rose during hartals.

The court also directed that in case of damage to public property, action should be initiated to recover the cost from those who had caused the damage and from the political parties or associations, which had called for the hartals.

Besides, criminal proceedings should also be launched against them. The court made it clear that the cases should not be withdrawn merely on political pressure and the investigation should be conducted fairly.

The Government should also publish the details of damages and the recovery steps initiated. It should also take action against police officers and district administration authorities if they do not take effective action and recover damages from the defaulting officers.

The Bench also ordered that effective action should be taken under the Prevention of the Damages to the Public Property Act 1984.

The court said those who called for the hartals should make it clear that nobody would be forced to participate in the strike, traffic would not be obstructed, those wanting to work would not be disturbed and the fundamental rights of citizens to move about would not be affected.

The Government should also ensure that people are able to move about on the roads freely without fear and public transport is able to ply without hindrance.

The government should also compensate those who suffer damages due to hartals or general strikes immediately, and should take steps to recover the same from persons who actually caused such damages. Besides, criminal cases also should be launched against them.

The directions were issued while allowing a few writ petitions filed by the Kochi-based Institute of Social Welfare, Kaloor Joseph and the Associated Chamber of Commerce, Thrissur.

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