Hartal in Kerala: HC initiates suo motu case against PFI


A division bench of the Kerala High Court on Friday initiated suo motu contempt of court proceedings against the Popular Front of India (PFI) and its state general secretary A Abdul Sathar after “taking note of the illegal call for hartal’’ made by the outfit.

The bench said the action of the PFI and its general secretary in calling the flash hartal without following the procedure as per “our earlier order of 2019, prima facie, amounts to contempt of the directions of this court.” Meanwhile, after several incidents of violence were reported from across the state on Friday, the police took hundreds of PFI workers into preventive custody.

The PFI has called the hartal in protest against the arrest of 19 of its Kerala leaders by central agencies, including its chairman O M A Salam, national secretary Nasaruddin Elamaram, state president C P Mohammed Basheer, senior leader P Koya and former chairman E Aboobacker.

The bench of Justices A K Jayasankaran Nambiar and Mohammed Nias C P directed that stringent action must be taken against those who violated the 2019 high court order which banned flash hartals. The court also sought a report from the state government and posted the matter to September 29 for further hearing.

The court on Friday requested the media to ensure that whenever such flash hartals are called, the public must be duly informed that the call is against the order of the court. “This, in our view, would suffice to a large extent, in allaying the apprehensions of the general public as regards the legality of the call for hartal and also dissuade providers of public utility services from heeding to such calls for illegal hartals in future,” said the court.

The division bench quoted from the 2019 order which said a call for a hartal/general strike does not have the effect of affecting the fundamental rights of those who do not align with the cause of those calling for the hartal/general strike. The said period of seven clear days will enable citizens who are opposed to the call for hartal/strike to approach the court. The said notice period would also enable the state/district administration to take such measures as are necessary to safeguard the interests of the people of this state. The court said hartals/strikes called without adhering to the above procedure, would be deemed illegal and person/party calling for the hartal would be liable for any loss/damage caused to citizens and government pursuant to the call for hartal/general strike.

Normal life has been hit in many parts of Kerala, particularly in strongholds of the PFI, as buses managed by private operators kept off the roads. Hundreds of passengers who reached railway stations from far-off destinations got stranded. Schools either remained closed or reported thin attendance. Shops and establishments in Muslim strongholds did not function.

Scores of buses of the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC), trucks and private vehicles were attacked in the state early in the morning. A few bus drivers were injured in the stone pelting. The KSRTC temporarily stopped services in the wake of the attacks. In Kannur, a bomb was hurled at a two-wheeler, the police said, while in Kollam two policemen were hit by a bike when they tried to disperse protesters. In many places, PFI activists forced shops to down their shutters.

Meanwhile, as incidents of violence were reported from across the state on Friday, the police stepped in and took hundreds of PFI workers into preventive custody. At Erattupetta in Kottayam district, which is a stronghold of the PFI, hartal supporters clashed with the police when the latter tried to disperse the crowd and around 100 persons were taken into custody, officers added. Similar steps were initiated in Kozhikode, Malappuram and other districts, where PFI men unleashed vandalism in public places.

An explosive was thrown at the RSS office at Mattannur in Kannur, but no one was hurt in the incident, the police said.

Alleging police inaction against perpetrators of the various incidents of violence on Friday, BJP state president K Surendran said the home department under the CPI(M) regime has succumbed to pressure from extremist elements. “The police have reduced themselves to mere onlookers when PFI men unleashed violence in many parts of Kerala. The CPI(M) government led by Pinarayi Vijayan is maintaining a soft corner towards the PFI-sponsored violence in return for the support of extremist elements during the last Assembly elections,” he said.

Offices in the state reported thin attendance and most educational institutions remained closed. Universities have postponed the exams slated for Friday. In most parts of the state, shops and establishments remained closed.