The Allahabad high court on Monday ordered the immediate removal of the roadside posters in Lucknow with names and photos of those accused of vandalism during the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests, observing the police action was an "unwarranted interference" in privacy of people.
The bench of Chief Justice Govind Mathur and Justice Ramesh Sinha also directed the district magistrate and the Lucknow police commissioner to submit a compliance report on or before March 16 and asked the Uttar Pradesh government not to install such posters "without having the authority of law".
The posters were displayed to "name and shame" the accused who had allegedly caused damage to public property during the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act on December 19 in the state capital.
Activist-politician Sadaf Jafar and former IPS officer SR Darapuri, who were among the accused whose names and photos were put up at major road crossings, hailed the court order.
"The order has sent a strong signal to the government that the state shall be run not by the authoritarianism, but by the rule of law," Jafar said.
Opposition leaders Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati, who head the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party respectively, also welcomed the order.
Reacting to the order, Mrityunjay Kumar, the media advisor to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, said it should be understood in the correct perspective.
"Only their posters will be removed, and not the sections (of law) imposed on them. We will take forward the fight to expose the identity of the rioters. Leniency with the rioters in 'Yogiraj' is impossible," Kumar said in a tweet.
In its order, the court observed that the action of the authorities was a violation of Article 21 of the Constitution under which no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.
"In entirety, we are having no doubt that the action of the state which is a subject matter of this public interest litigation is nothing but an unwarranted interference in privacy of people.
"Accordingly, the district magistrate and the commissioner of police, Lucknow, are directed to remove the banners from the roadside forthwith. The State of Uttar Pradesh is directed not to place such banners on roadside containing personal data of individuals without having authority of law," the court said.
The bench further said, "A report of satisfactory compliance is required to be submitted by the district magistrate, Lucknow, to the registrar general of this court on or before 16th March, 2020. On receiving such compliance report, the proceedings of this petition shall stand closed."
The court, which had on March 7 taken suo motu (on its own) cognisance of the issue, on Sunday termed the police move "highly unjust" and said it was an "absolute encroachment on personal liberty of individuals".
The posters bearing the photographs, names and addresses of those accused of vandalism during the anti-CAA protests had come up late on Thursday night.
In Lucknow, around 50 people were identified by police as alleged rioters and were served notices. The "name and shame" posters said the property of the accused will be confiscated if they fail to pay compensation.
Darapuri and Jafar were arrested in connection with the anti-CAA protests and were later granted bail.
"The judgment is extremely welcome because it reiterates our faith in the Constitution of the country, and also in the judiciary,"Jafar said.
She, however, regretted that their personal details have reached people and the threat to their lives remained.
Darapuri said six posters featuring him were put up in Lucknow.
"We welcome the judgment because it proved that in UP, the rule of law will prevail, not the anarchy (aarajaktaa) of the Yogi (Adityanath) government. This is a victory of democracy and defeat of dictatorship," he said.
Welcoming the order, Akhilesh Yadav alleged that the state government neither has the knowledge of right to privacy of citizens nor any respect for the constitution. "The people of the state are fed up with this government. We welcome the high court's decision."
Congress state president Ajay Kumar Lallu said the court decision has "exposed the undemocratic and anti-Constitution" stand of the state government.
During the special hearing on Sunday, the state government asserted that the police move was a "deterrent" action and the court should not interfere in such a matter as the accused had damaged public and private property.