The Allahabad High Court has held that even a peaceful agitation/protest leading to obstruction of running of any train would amount to an offence under Section 174(a) of the Railways Act.

"Even if a peaceful agitation/protest can lead to obstruction of running of any train by squatting or picketing or during any Rail Roko Agitation or bandh, the same would amount to an offence under Section 174(a) of the Railways Act.", the Bench of Justice Dinesh Kumar Singh noted.

The facts of the case were that some protesters of the Congress Party were accused of stopping a train in the Unnao Railway Station. A complaint was registered against the appellants-Annu Tandon Surya Narayan Yadav, District President of Congress Committee, Unnao and Amit Shukla, City President of Congress Committee, Unnao and Ankit Parihar and 150-200 other unknown persons.

However, accused persons denied the charge. In their statement recorded under Section 313 Code of Criminal Procedure, the accused-appellants said that they were not involved in stopping the train, but the protest was going on in an open area near the railway track. However, they did not produce any defence witness.

The Trial Court convicted and sentenced the appellants under Section 174 (a) of the Railways Act with simple imprisonment for two years and further under Sections 357 and 359 Cr.P.C. imposed fine of Rs.25,000/- to each appellant to be deposited with the Railway administration.

Aggrieved accused persons approached High Court.

Advocate Kamini Jaiswal appearing for the appellants submitted that the protest was staged at the open space near the railway track by the appellants and other Congress workers, and it was not the Rail Roko Agitation as held by the Trial Court.

She further submitted that organizing and holding peaceful protest against the Government, is permitted in democratic polity. She asserted that it is part of right of freedom of speech and expression.

On the other hand, Advocate Shiv P. Shukla, for the Respondent-State submitted that it is admitted case that the train was stopped for 15 minutes due to the agitation led by the appellants and other protesters. It was contended that the prosecution by cogent and credible evidence had proved the case against the appellants, and there was no ground to interfere with the judgement and order passed by the Trial Court.

The High Court noted that because of the protest by the appellants and other Congress workers, the railway traffic got disrupted for 15 minutes.

The Court further noted that the presence of appellants on the date, time and place of incident is not in dispute nor the incident is denied except the 313 Cr.P.C. statements stating they were not involved in stopping the train in question.

The Court held that "It is no one's case that the protest was violent, but the fact remains that the protesters, including the appellants, had stopped the train for 15 minutes by picketing on the railway track and climbed on the engine of the train when it was stopped."

"In view thereof, the offence under Section 174(a) of the Railways Act is clearly established against the appellants and the trial court has not committed any error of law or jurisdiction or evidence in convicting them for offence under Section 174(a) of the Railways Act.", the Court added further.

However, the Court observed that in the facts of the case the sentence awarded to the appellants for maximum sentence of two years of simple imprisonment was excessive.

"In democracy under our Constitution, people have right to protest against Government policies/action/inaction, provided the protest does not lead to commission of an offence by the protesters. Except for detaining the train for 15 minutes, there was no damage to private and public property by the protesters by and large it was a peaceful and symbolic protest.", the Court expressed.

Therefore the Court modified the sentence of the appellants-accused to the extent that the appellants were sentenced with fine only.

Cause Title- Annu Tandon and 3 Others v. State Through Railway Protection Force

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