The Kerala High Cout has initiated suo motu contempt case against the Popular Front of India (PFI) and its Kerala state general secretary, A. Abdul Sathar for calling a hartal in the state today in protest against the NIA crackdown on the organisation

The Division Bench of Justice A.K. Jayasankaran Nambiar and Justice Mohammed Nias C.P passed the order initiating contempt proceedings for violation of the High Court's earlier order of January 7, 2019, requiring 7 days' public notice before calling any hartal.

The PFI called the state-wide hartal yesterday after the NIA arrested 19 PFI leaders and workers yesterday and raided many houses and offices in the state.

The Bench noted in the order that despite its earlier order, a call for a flash hartal was made yesterday by the Popular Front of India.

"The action of the aforementioned persons in calling for the hartal without following the procedure contemplated in our earlier order, prima facie, amounts to contempt of the directions of this Court in the order aforementioned", the Bench noted while holding that an illegal call for hartal has been made by the PFI, to the prejudice and inconvenience of the general public.

The Bench issued the following direction three directions:-

"(1) The police establishment in the State shall ensure that adequate measures are put in place to prevent any damage/destruction to public/private property of Government/citizens who do not support the call for hartal. In particular, the police shall also take steps to monitor any such activity by the supporters of the illegal hartal and shall place before this Court a report giving details of such instances and the extent of damage, if any, caused to public/private property. The said details would be necessary for this Court to take remedial action to recover such losses from the perpetrators of the illegality.

(2) The police establishment shall also keep in mind the provisions of the relevant Penal Laws, including the provisions of the Kerala Prevention of Damage to Private Property and Payment of Compensation Act, 2019 as also the provisions of Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code while registering cases against those found to be flouting the law. Adequate police protection shall also be granted to all public utility services that apprehend violence, at the hands of those supporting the illegal hartal. We take of the submission of the learned Director General of Prosecution Sri.T.A.Shaji that Circulars/instructions to the above effect have already been issued by the State Police Chief last evening.

(3) We note with some concern, that in the Media reports about the flash hartal today, there is a mere mention of the call for a flash hartal, without mentioning the details of the interim order passed by this Court, which has the effect of rendering such calls for hartal without seven days public notice, as illegal. We, therefore, deem it necessary to once again request the Media to ensure that whenever such illegal flash hartals are called for, and it is apparent that the said hartal called is in violation of the orders passed by this Court, the public be duly informed of the said fact. This, in our view, would suffice to a large extent, in allaying the apprehensions of the general public as regards the legality of the call for hartal and also dissuade providers of public utility services from heeding to such calls for illegal hartals in future."

The Bench adjourned the Petition to Thursday for the report of the State Government.

In its 2019 order, a Division Bench of the High Court, of which Justice Jayasankaran Nambiar was a member, had directed, "We therefore direct that any person, including any political party or other Association of persons, that proposes to call for a general strike or hartal, shall give 7 clear days' public notice of its intention to do so. The said period of seven clear days will, in our view, enable citizens who are opposed to the call for hartal/strike to approach this Court with their apprehensions as regards such call, and this Court can then examine the legality of such call for hartal/strike. The said notice period would also, in our view, enable the State/District administration to take such measures as are necessary to safeguard the interests of the people of this State, in the event of any hartal/strike being permitted to be conducted in a lawful manner. We make it clear that hartals/strikes called without adhering to the above procedure, would be deemed illegal/unconstitutional, and while the same would entail adverse consequences to the person/party calling for the hartal, the said person/party would also be liable, on the principles of strict liability, for any loss/damage caused to citizens and government pursuant to the call for hartal/general strike".

Click here to read/download Order