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How Calcutta High Court is dealing with the Petitions against the State Government in the Protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)?

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The nation has been embroiled in civil protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed by the Central government on the 10th December 2019 in the Lok Sabha and the on 11th of December in 2019. The State government of West Bengal headed by Mamta Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) spearheaded statewide protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act as well as the implementation of a Nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC). The proposed NRC along with CAA led to protests from the 15th of December in answer to which the Court directed the State government to file a report on the 16th of December.

The Petitions and Proceedings

As maintenance of law and order is a state subject, the petitioner Mr. Surajit Saha wanted the Court to direct the government, its officials and the state police to ensure it by filing the W.P 23510W of 2019. The learned counsel of the State submitted that they are waiting for a report on the issue of law and order. The court also directed the petitioner to add the appropriate authorities of the Union of India and the railways as the petition extends to the “destruction of railway property and to the Union of India property.”

On the 19th of December, advocate on behalf of the petitioner asked for filing a supplementary affidavit by the 20th of December in view of the events that transpired between the 16th and 19th December. As per that, the following petitions were filed;

AST 61 and AST 62 were filed by Anirban Mukherjee and Rama Prasad Sarkar respectively. AST 61 raised the issue of why the police and other enforcement authorities approached to take control of the situation. AST 62 pointed out that the damage to railway property and the “deficit” of the State in protecting the railway establishments which led to ‘breach of security, adverse situation to life, limb and property….”

W.P. 23557W of 2019 raised the issue of the anti-CAA advertisements released by the chief minister of the State, Mamta Banerjee which has affected the law and order situation in the state.

W.P. 23573W of 2019 raised the question of whether the state government should have used the public funds and public office could have been used to put across public notices in the name of the State government relating to the applicability of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

The counsel for the W.P. 23781W of 2019 stated that the chief minister of the State does not have any authority to make public statements against legislation that has passed the Lok Sabha, the Rajya Sabha and attained the assent of the President.

Court’s Take on Internet Shutdown as well as Law and Order

On 18th December 2019, the State government placed a report for the perusal of the Court. The District Magistrate (D.M) of Howrah invoked Section 144 under the Code of Criminal Procedure on the 19th of December 2019. The D.M supported his decision by stating that there was “real apprehension of grave risk and danger to human life and property.” On the basis of this, the D.M also shut down transmission of data till 5 pm on 20th December 2019.

The Court categorically stated that the restrictions on the internet cannot be continued for long periods unless it finds support with facts and circumstances that require such restrictions. On the issue of continuing with the advertisement/messages under the name of the State government, the Court directed the government to place its response on 23rd December.

The Interim Order of 23rd December 2019

On 23rd December 2019, The Advocate General submitted that the restrictions imposed on the internet for ensuring maintenance of law and order have been lifted throughout the entire State.

The Chief Justice Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan and Justice Arijit Banerjee directed that all the publications mentioned against the passed legislation of CAA should be removed from all government portals along with the Facebook sites of all government departments until the matter is resolved.

The issue of whether it is permissible to use public funds to circulate such publications that are against remains open till the next hearing. The Eastern Railway, South Eastern Railway, the State as well as the Union of India were directed by the Court to place any responses on the remaining issues in the form of affidavits before the next date of the hearing; 9th January 2020.

The issue of the CAA, as well as NRC, has created an uproar in the entire Nation and many parts of the country are facing civil protests. With the introduction of the decision of the Centre to update the National Population Register (NPR), the chief minister of West Bengal has said that she will not cooperate in the exercise. It will be significant to see the way the judiciary will handle the emerging issues across the political spectrum in the entire country.

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