Kochi, The Kerala High Court on Friday strongly condemned and initiated suo motu proceedings against the leaders of Popular Front of India (PFI) for the illegal call of flash hartal (shutdown) in the state.
By the time the court began its sittings, there were numerous reports of the PFI activists damaging public properties and threatening people who tried to venture out.
Numerous buses owned by the already reeling Kerala State Road Transport Corporation were stoned and a few of their staff members got injured. The visuals of two bus drivers driving the buses wearing helmets went viral.
"A few years ago on a shutdown day, when I was driving the bus, a stone hit the front glass and pieces of glass dust got deposited in my eyes and I had to suffer a lot, hence today I had to take precaution and wore the helmet," said the driver, Latheef, who was driving the bus in the state capital city.
On Friday, the Division Bench of Justice A.K. Jayasankaran Nambiar and Justice Mohammed Nias wanted stringent action to be taken against the violators of the court order.
"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 stated in the order while saying, "It is suo motu initiating a separate action for contempt."
Incidentally, the court had previously, in an order dated January 7, 2019, taken note of the peculiar circumstances in Kerala where calls for hartal, which ordinarily would not be viewed as illegal. But over the years the call for a shutdown carried an implied suggestion that the general public if they did not cooperate with those calling the hartal, might face threats of violence.
The court then issued directions to ensure that a call for hartal or general strike did not have the effect of affecting the fundamental rights of those who do not align with the cause of those calling for the hartal and had laid down a procedure to be adhered with while calling for hartal.
The court had made it clear that flash hartals, namely those hartals/strikes called without adhering to the procedure of giving seven days clear public notice, would be deemed illegal/unconstitutional entailing adverse consequences to the persons/party calling for the hartal.
And taking cognisance of this, the court initiated suo motu proceedings against the PFI and soon the police decided to register a case against PFI general secretary Abdul Sathar.
The court then directed the police to ensure that adequate measures are put in place to prevent any damage to public and private property.
It also asked the media to ensure that whenever such illegal flash hartals are called for, the public be duly informed that this is in violation of the orders passed by the court. The case was then posted for next Thursday.
On Friday, the police after watching the PFI activists take law into their hands in most places, started to take action soon after the court spoke tough. And, more than 100 PFI activists were taken into custody.
The maximum impact of the dawn-to-dusk bandh was seen in the Muslim stronghold areas of the state. At several places, the activists forced the people to down the shutters of their shops.
On Thursday, as many as 19 PFI activists, including the top brass of their leadership, were arrested as part of an early morning joint operation by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and National Investigation Agency (NIA).
Even though the Kerala Police had made elaborate arrangements and warned of strict action against those who resorted to violence, the PFI activists went on a rampage and at numerous places and pelted stones.
Even the private vehicles were not spared and in the state's capital at a Muslim stronghold area, the agitators waylaid and attacked a car en route to the airport to drop people at the airport to catch an international flight.
About 20 policemen were reported to be present at the place, but they did not respond.
At Kollam, suspected PFI activists rammed their two-wheelers on two on-duty policemen injuring them.
Even at the famed international tourist destination at Kovalam, near here, things were no different as most of the shops remained closed.
However, at Erattupettah in Kottayam district, the police took on the PFI workers and chased them away and detained five of them.
When most of the universities in the state have postponed the day's examinations, the Public Service Commission has decided to hold the exam as scheduled.
Educational institutions across the state also remained closed.