calcutta high court

Calcutta High Court: While passing an interim order in a case where an agitation is scheduled including blocking the movement of trains, many of which operate across state boundaries, a division bench comprising of T.S. Sivagnanam, CJ., and Hiranmay Bhattacharyya, J., held that the proposed indefinite protest by Adibasi Kudmi Samaj as illegal and unconstitutional.

The Court stressed on the importance of maintaining public order and preventing disruptions to essential services and public life and directed the State Government to take appropriate measures to ensure law and order while sensitizing protesters about the proper channels for addressing their grievances.

Factual Matrix

In the instant matter, two separate public interest litigations (PILs) have been filed by the petitioners, seeking nearly identical relief. The PILs are preferred due to impending agitation scheduled to commence on 20-09-2023, by an organization known as “Adibasi Kudmi Samaj,” a registered society.

The planned agitation, starting on 20-09-2023, is expected to severely impact public movement and other activities, particularly in four districts of West Bengal: Bankura, Jhargram, Purulia, and West Midnapore. The agitation’s proposal includes blocking the movement of trains, many of which operate across state boundaries, thereby affecting the states of Jharkhand, parts of Odisha, and parts of Chhattisgarh. The central demand of Adibasi Kudmi Samaj and its office bearers is the inclusion of the Kudmi community in the Scheduled Tribe list.

A previous PIL was filed on this matter, and the Court clarified that it could not issue such a directive, stating that such grievances should be addressed through appropriate forums. The current PILs, however, focus on the broader impact of the proposed agitation on society as a whole.

The petitioners highlighted that similar protests were conducted by the organization in September 2022 and April 2023, resulting in substantial financial losses for the Indian Railways, amounting to Rs. 60 crores. The protests also caused significant hardship to citizens in the affected districts, directly and indirectly. In anticipation of the forthcoming agitation, 39 trains have been canceled by the South-Eastern Railways.

Moot Pint

  1. Whether proposed agitation scheduled to begin on 20-09-2023 legal and constitutional?

  2. Whether Adibasi Kudmi Samaj and its members have the right to conduct such an indefinite protest, given the previous protests did not achieve their desired results?

Court’s Assessment

The Court observed that the Supreme Court in Communist Party of India (M) v. Bharat Kumar, (1998) 1 SCC 201, held that the distinction between a “Bandh” and a call for a general strike or “Hartal” is well-established concerning the impact on the fundamental rights of citizens, in All India Anna Dravida Munietra Kazhagam v. Chief Secy., Govt. of T.N., (2009) 5 SCC 452, held that calls given by political parties for “Bandh” are not acceptable and cannot be enforced and the Gauhati High Court in Lower Assam Inter, District Stage Carriage Bus Owner’s Assn. v. State of Assam, 2019 SCC OnLine Gau 1482, held that road blockades and rail blockades are variants of “Bandh” and are illegal and unconstitutional.

The Court held that based on legal precedents, protests like the one planned by Adibasi Kudmi Samaj, involving road and rail blockades, are deemed illegal and unconstitutional.

The Court observed that the previous protests conducted by the organization did not achieve the desired outcome and allowing them to hold another indefinite protest is not justifiable.

The Court further opined that Adibasi Kudmi Samaj and its members do not possess a vested right to block roadways and railways, causing inconvenience to both the residents of the four West Bengal districts and the neighboring states.

“We are of the prima facie view that the Samaj and its members cannot hold innocent citizens to ransom by seeking to hold an indefinite protest by blocking the railways and the roadways.”

The Court emphasised the importance of public ways and spaces remaining accessible and not being occupied indefinitely for protests, citing Amit Sahni (Shaheen Bagh. In Re.) v. Commissioner of Police, (2020) 10 SCC 439, where the Supreme Court emphasized that public ways and spaces should not be occupied indefinitely for protests.

Court’s Direction

The Court directed the State Government is directed to deploy additional forces, including specialized units, and, if necessary, request assistance from neighboring states (Jharkhand, Odisha, and Chhattisgarh) to prevent protesters from converging on the core protest area.

The Court urged the Railway Protection Force to remain vigilant, and additional deployments may be necessary at railway stations. The State Government is urged to take all necessary measures to maintain law and order and to ensure that roadways and railways are not blocked during the protest.

The Court emphasized the need to sensitize protesters about the appropriate forums where they can address their grievances, as a constitutional court under Article 226 cannot issue directives for the inclusion of a community in the Scheduled Tribe list.

The Court ordered a follow-up hearing on 09-10-2023, to monitor the situation.

[Purulia Chamber of Trade & Industry v. State of W.B., 2023 SCC OnLine Cal 2962, order dated 19-09-2023]

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Mr. Abhratosh Majumdar, Sr. Adv. and Mr. Kausheyol Roy, Counsel for the Petitioner in WPA(P) 503 of 2023

Mr. Kishore Dutta, Sr. Adv., Mr. Niloy Sengupta, Mr. S. Ganguly and Mr. Soumen Chatterjee, Counsel for the Petitioner in WPA(P) 510 of 2023

Mr. S.N. Mookherjee, Sr. Adv, Ld. AG Mr. Supratim Dhar, Counsel for the Respondent/State

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