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Blocked. Twitter, Roads…What Next?

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I am reading some crazy pieces of news these days! Are we in for another round of Emergency off late, albeit undeclared one? Or, are we readying ourselves for a Chinese takeover – India, a new China?

After the shocking order earlier this week to the social networking site twitter for banning the accounts of eminent journalists amongst several others, the Indian Government has now decided to shut down six prominent Metro-train stations around the Prime Minister’s and BJP President’s residences located in the Lutyen’s New Delhi, for most the Sunday, as a preventive and cautionary step in ensuring ‘public order’. One does not need to invoke a binomial theorem to add two and two of the true intentions – they don’t want the common man to reach the site for the Gherao, or protests, called tomorrow by the Anna Hazare supporters.

I recall how nattily the Delhi Metro organized, as a last moment decision, a ‘mock drill’, when these protests happened last time in Delhi. This mock-drill made traveling for the general public quite difficult. Routine matter; I heard Metro and Government spokespersons say then. Well, the informed public would surely know that it the same Metro Department that has a rule of notifying 20-days’ in advance in case such a mock drill is to be conducted!

In the August of 2011, when the Government was heavily up in arms against the protests of Anna and his supporters against corruption, Union minister Kapil Sibal quoted a Supreme Court judgment – “the right which flows from Article 19(1)(b) is not a right to hold a meeting at any place and time”.

Smart lawyer; that he is, Sibal. For he simply stopped short of stating the very next line of the same judgment, wherein the Apex court went on to stress that the State can only impose ‘reasonable’ restrictions in the interest of public order.’

Not only that, Sibal failed to state further portions of the Apex court’s ruling in the above case (Himat Lal K. Shah vs. Commissioner Of Police, Ahmedabad and Anr., 1973 AIR 87), wherein Hon. Justice Sikri said that “Freedom of assembly is an essential element of a democratic system. The basic assumption in a democratic polity is that government shall be based on the consent of the governed.”

The Supreme Court didn’t stop at this. It further emphasized that free consent implied discussions and the right of citizens to “meet face to face with others for the discussion of their ideas and problems, and public streets are the ‘natural’ places for expression of opinion and dissemination of ideas.”

It is ironic that in the capital of the world’s largest democracy, there is no room for public protest. Contrary to whatever Mr. Sibal may conveniently quote, under the Indian Constitution the right of people to visit the site to support the protest – which may be justified or unjustified – is well enshrined. It has been held that the right to hold a meeting or a demonstration involves the Constitutional right of every citizen – of assembly under Article 19(l)(b), of expression under Article 19(l)(a), and of free movement throughout the territory of India under Article 19(l)(d).

It is true that the aforesaid right u/A 19(I)(b) is subject to reasonable restrictions. Law can impose these restrictions when the sovereignty of India or public order is threatened. Having said that, it must be noted that these rights can be regulated only in specific circumstances and on grounds that are unexceptionable for protecting the sovereignty and integrity of India and maintaining public order.

It is also imperative to note that the Government must be extremely careful while refusing meetings on the ground of ‘public order’. The threat to ‘public order’ must not be read akin to a threat to ‘law and order’; for a threat to ‘public order’ can arise only when a total breakdown of the State machinery is looming. So, is our Government accepting that tomorrow’s protests will lead to a total collapse of the State and hence the restriction?

Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code permits the State to act when ‘immediate prevention or speedy remedy’ is desirable. But this can be done only after the State has provided all the relevant reasons. No order under this section can remain in force for more than two months.

However, we clearly observe from the events of last one year that a citizen’s right to organise a meeting, an assembly or a dissent demonstration is increasingly being breached upon. A protest demonstration is sought to be barred either by the imposition of prohibitionary orders in the area concerned or the relevant routes are not permitted. The Delhi Metro, clearly acting under the diktat of the Government, has just done that!

“Every company, whether it’s an entertainment company, or a construction company, or a social media company, has to operate within the laws of the given country”, said Sachin Pilot, a Minister of State for Communications and IT, justifying the government’s threat to twitter of an “appropriate and suitable action” if it failed to block offensive accounts as soon as possible.

I wonder; does Mr.Pilot know what the Constitution really says in this regard, or that he too is conveniently quoting the half-text like his senior colleague!

So, right from refusing permission to Anna last year for protests at the Jantar Mantar, to blocking down twitter accounts of journalists last week to shutting down the Metro stations now, the Government and its smart lawyer-turned-political-spokespersons have disregarded the Constitutional rights and simply imposed a new form of ‘Emergency’ on the common man.

Hope my Blog doesn’t get blocked after this…


Post Script: As per the newspapers reports, the funniest part was that Milind Deora, another Minister of State for Communications and Information Technology had got his account suspended for unknown reasons the very next day of his tweets! Ironically, he had used his tweets to defend the government’s actions!!

Photo-credit: mtholyoke.edu

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are author’s own and not of the organisation he is associated with.

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