Coming to the aid of a law graduate who had participated in the protests for the closure of Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi because of which he had been denied enrolment as an advocate, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has recently directed the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry to enroll him as an advocate on its roll.
A Bench comprising Justices M Duraiswamy and Murali Shankar pertinently observed,
“The right to freedom of speech and expression and the right to assemble peaceably and without arms are fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 19(1) (a) and (b) of the Constitution of India … every citizen is having right to comment on the policies of Governments and to have their own views with respect to the such policies.”
The Court was adjudicating upon a plea moved by K. Siva who after completing his law degree from the Tirunelveli Government Law College, had applied to the State Bar Council to enrol as an advocate. Thereafter the application was sent for police verification and consequently the petitioner was informed that there were more than 80 criminal cases against him. As a result, he was not called for enrolment and was orally informed that unless he obtained a Court order, he would not be permitted to be enrolled.
In this regard, the Superintendent of Police, Tirunelveli had submitted a report before the Court stipulating that nearly 85 cases had been registered against the petitioner and since the petitioner was a person ‘acting against the government’, no recommendation can be given concerning his conduct.
To this, the Bench underscored,
“There is a colossal difference between complaining that a person is acting against the Government and that person is protesting the Policies of the Government.”
Furthermore, the Court observed that nowhere had it been stated that the petitioner had been involved in heinous crimes or anti-national or anti-social activities. It was also noted that the petitioner had not been included in the first final report or in the supplementary charge sheet filed by the CBI to whom the investigation of cases pertaining to anti-Sterlite protests and the death of thirteen protesters was transferred.
“Court is at loss to understand as to how the respondents 1 and 2, merely relying on the above report of the third respondent, which does not disclose the position of 81 cases referred to CBI and without getting any report from the CBI and without resorting to any enquiry, has declined his enrollment.“, the Court remarked.
Referring to another protest where the petitioner had participated and wherein wherein slogans were raised not to crush anti-Sterlite protests, the Court observed,
“We would like to point out that the protest or demonstration organized by the group of students including the petitioner was actually towards fulfilment of their fundamental duty under Article 48 A of the Constitution of India. It is not the case of the Police that the petitioner and other students had indulged in any violent activities at that time“
The Court further noted that bulk of the cases registered against the petitioner were pertaining to the anti-Sterlite agitation that took place on May 22, 2018. Expressing shock, the Bench remarked,
“On a cursory look at the particulars of the cases registered against the petitioner, we were shocked to notice that as many as 85 criminal cases came to be registered against the petitioner. But a close perusal of the same would reveal that 81 cases out of 85 cases, came to be registered for the incidents alleged to have been occurred on May 22, 2018.“
The Court then proceeded to question enquire how the petitioner had been made an accused with respect to incidents that took place at various locations on the same day.
“In the absence of any charge for criminal conspiracy, is it possible for a person to be present and involved in the commission of offences at 88 various places on the same day?“, the Court questioned.
It was further noted that the petitioner’s name was missing from the final reports as well as the several FIRs lodged over anti-Sterlite protests.
“Admittedly, the petitioner’s name does not find place in any of the above said 88 FIRs registered for the incidents allegedly occurred on 22.05.2018. Though the Superintendent of Police, Thoothukudi District, in his status report, has shown the rank of the petitioner in those cases, they have not furnished any particulars as to how and on what basis, the petitioner was implicated in the above 88 cases,” the Court further opined.
Accordingly, the Court ruled that there was ‘no whisper’ of any allegation that the petitioner had been involved in any anti-national or anti-social activities and accordingly directed the Bar Council of of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry to enroll the petitioner as an advocate.
“This Court has no hesitation to hold that the enrollment of the petitioner as an Advocate is unjustly being denied to the petitioner and therefore, necessary directions are to be issued to the respondents 1 and 2 to enroll the petitioner as an Advocate on the Roll of Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.”, the Court ordered.