Calcutta, Dec. 17: The high court today sought to draw a fine line between strikes and hartals on the one hand and bandhs on the other, dubbing one a fundamental right and the other an encroachment on fundamental rights.
The special division bench of the court set up to deal with bandh-related cases today made it clear that it had no intention to curb the rights of political parties to call strikes. But it also underlined that it considers bandhs illegal as they imply forceful closure and involve stopping willing workers from going to work.
However, the court did not spell out what precisely differentiated a strike or a hartal from a bandh. Nor did it make any observation on the fact that even in the case of a factory strike, it is common practice to prevent willing workers from attending work.
The bench of Justices Pratap Kumar Ray and Jyotirmoy Bhattacharya said: 'We believe that political parties must have the right to strike to protest against the misrule of the government. Strikes and hartals enable one to let off steam, anger, dissatisfaction and unhappiness in an acceptable manner. If society plugs all outlets, there will be a step-up in terrorist activities.
'But the court is against observing bandhs as it is always forced on the people and it curbs their fundamental right to education, locomotion and medical treatment and, additionally, overrides the sentiment of the majority.'
Disposing of a petition filed by the CPM's Kerala unit in 1997, the Supreme Court had said: 'It is the duty of the court to step in to protect the rights of the citizen so as to ensure that freedom available to him is not curtailed by any person or any political party.'
The bench today allowed Pravash Ghosh ' the state secretary of the SUCI, which called a Bengal bandh on November 17 ' to argue his case in person. The judges, who declared the bandh illegal, said: 'We simply want political parties of the state to understand the simple language of the apex court' that they have no right to intrude on the fundamental rights of common people by observing forceful bandhs.
'We know, as a leader since before Independence, you have made a great contribution to society. That is why we want political personalities like you to obey the law of the land (the Supreme Court ruling).'
Ghosh told the court that his party was against application of force during bandhs. 'Our supporters only request people to observe bandhs.' He made no mention of the string of incidents on November 17 in which his party supporters tried to force life to a halt.