GUWAHATI, March 19 - The Gauhati High Court today passed a historic judgement declaring bandhs and blockades called by different organisations as illegal and unconstitutional, and issued various guidelines in the form of directions for curbing the menace of bandhs and blockades.
The court was hearing a writ petition filed by the Lower Assam Inter District Stage Carriage Bus Owners Association that sought imposition of exemplary damages upon the organisers for declaring illegal and unconstitutional bandhs for a total of 51 days from August 28, 2012 to August 31, 2013 in the districts of Goalpara, Bongaigaon and Kamrup, and alternatively, a direction to the State of Assam for payment of such compensation.
In his judgement, Justice Ujjal Bhuyan held that organisers of bandhs or blockades, at least the principal office-bearers of such organisers, would be liable to be prosecuted under various provisions of the India Penal Code, 1860, National Highways Act, 1956 and the Railways Act, 1989. In addition, those indulging in violence and intimidation, including preventing people from attending to their duties, would also have to be booked under relevant penal provisions, the court ruled.
Considering various judgements passed by the Supreme Court and different high courts on the issue of unconstitutionality of bandhs, road blockades and rail blockades declared by different organisations and also considering different penal provisions in the Indian Penal Code as also the Railway Act and National Highway Act, Justice Bhuyan framed a number of guidelines in the form of directions such as to lodge FIR against the organisations who call for an Assam bandh or statewide road blockade/rail blockade by the Commissioner of Police, Guwahati City or by any of his authorised subordinate officer before the Panbazar Police Station within 24 hours of such bandh and blockade.
In case of a district bandh or a bandh covering more than one district or a local bandh or a blockade of either road or rail of similar nature, the jurisdictional superintendent of police shall lodge FIR before the competent police station within 24 hours of such bandh or blockade. The investigating officers in all such cases shall carry out investigation expeditiously and file chargesheets before the competent criminal court promptly so that the offenders can be tried in a fast-track mode.
The court further directed that the Assam Police Accountability Commission shall monitor filing of FIR and registration of cases. In case of any default or non-seriousness in complying with the said guidelines, appropriate action may be taken by the police accountability commission in accordance with law. Further, the police accountability commission shall submit monitoring report to the Registrar (Judicial), Gauhati High Court once in every three months.
The Commissioner and Secretary to the Government of Assam in the home and political department shall also file contempt petition against the organisers and the main office-bearers of such organisations calling bandhs and blockades before the high court. In default in carrying out the directions by the authorities concerned, they would be liable to face departmental proceeding, besides committing contempt of court.
The Registrar (Judicial), Gauhati High Court shall maintain a record of monitoring reports submitted by the Assam Police Accountability Commission. If occasion arises, a contempt case shall be registered against the organisers and persons concerned.
The home and political department of the Government of Assam shall make an assessment of loss caused to the State on account of bandh or blockade which shall be recoverable from the organisers and main office-bearers as arrears of land revenue. A Bandh Loss Compensation Fund shall be constituted by the home and political department within a period of three months that will be maintained by a retired district and sessions judge along with one administrative officer. The quantum of loss recovered from the bandh organisers shall be deposited by the home and political department to the Bandh Loss Compensation Fund. The authority of the Bandh Loss Compensation Fund shall evolve its own procedure for quick settlement of claims lodged by individuals, public bodies, etc.
The court further held that the guidelines would hold the field till enactment of appropriate legislation by the State.