The Kerala High Court on Thursday directed the Popular Front of India (PFI) to provisionally deposit Rs 5.20 crore towards the damages estimated by the state government as well as the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) as compensation for the destruction of property in the state due to the flash Hartal called by the banned organisation on September 23.
A Division Bench comprising Justice AK Jayasankaran Nambiar and Justice Mohammed Nias CP has ordered that the PFI should deposit the amount with the Additional Chief Secretary, Home Department, within two weeks. If the PFI fails to deposit the amount with the Additional Chief Secretary, Home Department, the state shall initiate recovery action against them, the court further said
“If the amount is not deposited within two weeks, the state by invoking the provisions of the Revenue Recovery Act should take immediate steps to proceed against the assets of the PFI as well personal assets of its office bearers including the Secretary for the realisation of the deposit amount.”
Coming down heavily on flash hartal, the court observed: “Flash hartals in the state are not going to happen irrespective of political parties. The life of citizens cannot be put to trouble. The message is loud and clear. If anyone does this, there will be consequences. Organizations can have demonstrations against any cause, the Constitution permits that but not flash hartals. Any demonstration that causes inconvenience to the public by way of obstruction of roads, traffic, etc., is not permitted.”
The High Court also directed the state Government to make PFI General Secretary A Abdul Sathar, an additional accused in all the cases registered in the state following the flash hartal
Since it was brought to its notice that several criminal cases have been registered for the damages caused during the hartal, the court directed the Magistrates and Sessions Courts that wherever the bail application based on the PFI hartal issue comes up, the bail should be granted on the condition that they deposit the amount lost due to the property damaged
The court had on last Friday filed a case suo motu against PFI for calling a flash hartal violating its 2019 order that banned such strikes in the state. The court also flayed the state administration for not taking effective steps to prevent the illegal hartal.
“It is of some concern that notwithstanding our declaration that the very calling of a flash hartal was an illegal and unconstitutional act, the state administration did virtually nothing to prevent the hartal organizers from going ahead with their illegal demonstrations and incidental road blockages on September 23,” the court said .
“The media reports also reveal that the police force played only a passive role in dealing with the situation till we pronounced our order,” the court further said.
The PFI called for a dawn-to-dusk hartal in Kerala on last Friday in protest against the massive raids conducted by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the Enforcement Directorate(ED) in its offices and residences of its leaders and the subsequent arrests of its prominent leaders.
Normal life in the state crippled as incidents of stone-pelting, hurling of bombs were reported across the state. The hartal supporters damaged nearly 70 KSRTC buses in the state. Eight KSRTC drivers sustained injuries in the attack. KSRTC on Tuesday moved the High Court seeking compensation to the tune of Rs 5.06 crore from the PFI for the damages caused to its buses during the hartal as many protestors engaged in stone pelting and other destructive acts.