The Yogi Adityanath government's "name and shame" campaign came to an abrupt halt today as the Allahabad High Court ordered that all posters and hoardings naming those accused of violence during protests against the controversial citizenship law be immediately removed. Citing the Right to Privacy as a fundamental human right recognised by the United Nations as well as the Supreme Court, the judges said the government's move to display photographs and personal details of the accused on roadside hoardings was "an unwarranted interference in privacy".
The Lucknow administration has to give a compliance report on the removal to the registrar general by March 16, the court said.
Sources said the hoardings – in which the persons named were asked to pay for damage to public property and warned that their property would be attached otherwise -- were put up on instructions of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
The High Court had taken up issue on its own, asking the government to explain its position during a rare hearing on a Sunday, a court holiday. Senior advocate KK Rai, who attended the initial hearing at 10 am, said Chief Justice Govind Mathur had made some strong remarks on the issue, saying the government was "impinging on privacy, respect and freedom" and called it an "illegal move".
Today, responding to the government's contention that the court "erred in invoking public interest jurisdiction", the judges said, "Courts are meant to impart justice and no court can shut its eyes if a public unjust is happening just before it".
The judges said they were not concerned with "validity of the compensation fastened, but to the act about disclosure of personal details of the accused persons".
"In the present case, the cause is not about personal injury caused to the persons whose personal details are given in the banner but the injury caused to the precious constitutional value and its shameless depiction by the administration. The cause as such is undemocratic functioning of government agencies which are supposed to treat all members of public with respect and courtesy and at all time should behave in manner that upholds constitutional and democratic values," the judgment read.
Activist-politician Sadaf Jafar, who was one of the people named in the hoardings, welcomed the judgment. Calling the government's move an effort to compromise the rule of law, she said the move of the court sets an example and "reinforces our faith in the country's constitution".
"The damage is already done. This is a digital age. But this is a moral victory for us," said Deepak Kabir, theater artist and another accused in the matter.