Calling For Hartal By Itself Cannot Attract Offence For Violence During Hartal: Kerala HC Quashes FIR Relating To Sabarimala Protest
The Kerala High Court has quashed a criminal case against Hindu Aikya Vedi leader K. P. Sasikala and Sabarimala Karma Samithi leader S.J.R. Kumar in relation to violence during a harthal called in the state in protest against the entry of women of all ages in Sabarimala Temple. The case was in relation to vandalizing of an auto-rickshaw of the complainant in Kannur on the day of the harthal.
A Bench of Justice Ziyad Rahman A.A. quashed offences charged against the petitioners under Sections 294(b), 506(i), 427 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
It was the prosecution's case that the harthal was called for by the petitioners, who were the office bearers of an organisation which was protesting against the implementation of the decision to permit entry of women in Sabarimala Temple. Apart from that, no role in the violence was alleged against the petitioners. Three other accused were alleged to have committed mischief by vandalizing the auto rickshaw of the complainant and thereby caused damage to the auto rickshaw to the tune of Rs.5,650/-.
Advocate Sajith Kumar V., appearing for petitioners pointed out that the acts which allegedly constitute the offences are alleged to have been committed by other three accused and that there was no role assigned to the petitioners therein.
On the other hand, Public Prosecutor Nima Jacob contended that the question of involvement of the petitioners is a matter of evidence, which cannot be considered at this stage of the proceedings.
The defacto complainant did not appear despite notice.
The Court noted that the only allegation against the petitioners was that they had called for a harthal in protest against the decision regarding the entry of women in Sabarimala Temple and the crux of the allegation which constitutes the offences were in respect of the act physically committed by the other three accused persons.
The Court held that calling for hartal by itself cannot be an act attracting any of the offences alleged.
"Apart from the mere statement that the petitioners have called for harthal, there is absolutely nothing is mentioned in the final report indicating the culpability of the petitioners. As far as the allegation of calling for harthal is concerned, the same by itself cannot be an act attracting any of the offences alleged." the Court held.
The Court further observed that in the statements of the witnesses recorded under Section 161 of Cr.P.C. also the names of the petitioners were not mentioned.
"..after examining all the relevant inputs, I am of the firm view that none of the offences alleged against the petitioners are attracted. The prosecution against the petitioners in pursuance to Annexure-B is a clear abuse of process of law." the court held.
The Court relied upon an earlier order quashing a similar case against K. P. Sasikala.
The then DGP and State Police Chief Loknath Behera had issued a circular in March, 2019 to all District Police Chiefs to array the leaders of the organisations that called a hartal in the state in January, 2019 pursuant to the entry of a woman of restricted age into the Sabarimala temple under the protection of Police, as co-accused in all criminal cases registered on that day.
The circular referred to a letter of the then Additional Advocate General to the State Police Chief and a legal opinion of the then Director General of Prosecution to array those who called the hartal as co-accused in all the cases registered on the date of hartal.