Punjab and Haryana High Court Demands Post-Meeting Update in Ongoing Farmers’ Protests

The Punjab and Haryana High Court is actively involved in addressing the ongoing farmers’ protests, with a recent focus on the scheduled meeting between representatives of the Central government and farmers’ unions on February 15. The Court, led by Acting Chief Justice Gurmeet Singh Sandhawalia and Justice Lapita Banerji, has requested the government to submit status reports after the meeting to address concerns raised in two petitions related to the protests.

The primary demands of the protesting farmers include the enactment of a law ensuring a minimum support price (MSP) for crops. The farmers had planned a ‘Delhi Chalo’ march, leading to the imposition of Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) in parts of Haryana to restrict their movement and block roads leading to Delhi. Two petitions were filed in response to these events, one challenging the restrictions imposed on the farmers and the other seeking action against the protestors.

Uday Pratap Singh, a resident of Panchkula and an advocate at the High Court, filed a petition challenging the restrictions placed on the farmers, including the sealing of borders and suspension of the internet. Singh argued that the farmers’ march was an expression of their democratic right to peaceful protest. The other petition, filed by Advocate Arvind Seth, sought action against the protesting farmers and requested measures to maintain law and order in Punjab and Haryana.

The High Court, which issued notices to the Central government and the governments of Punjab, Haryana, and Delhi on February 13, is set to hear the matter next on February 20. During earlier hearings, the Court emphasized the need for dialogue between the government and the farmers, leading to the announcement of a meeting on February 15.

The Central government expressed its openness to engaging in a dialogue with the farmers, and the Punjab government assured the Court that, despite the tense situation, the state had the protests under control. The state government also expressed support for peaceful protests.

In an affidavit, the Haryana government raised concerns about the potential impact of farmers’ protests on national highways, citing potential disruptions to the movement of people, goods, and essential services. The government highlighted the possibility of tractors entering Delhi for a massive protest and suggested the identification and prevention of such entries to maintain law and order. Section 144, CrPC orders were imposed in 20 districts of Haryana in response to these concerns.

The government’s affidavit also referenced the protests against the now-scrapped Farm Laws in 2020-21, citing substantial losses and expressing fears of protests escalating into violence. Reports of clashes between protestors and police in Jind District and at the Shambhu border in Ambala District raised additional concerns.

The Haryana government proposed the identification of six districts for peaceful protests, namely Yamunanagar, Charkhi Dadri, Kurukshetra, Jhajjar, Panchkula, and Karnal. Similarly, the State of Punjab was encouraged to earmark areas for peaceful protests to avoid disruptions to normal movement.

As the government and farmers’ representatives prepare to meet, the High Court seeks to address the concerns raised in the petitions and encourages a resolution through dialogue. The situation remains dynamic, and the Court will reconvene on February 20 to assess the progress made in addressing the issues related to the ongoing farmers’ protests in Punjab and Haryana.

Punjab and Haryana High Court Upholds Press Freedom in Defamation Case

The Punjab and Haryana High Court recently made a significant decision, dismissing defamation proceedings against certain newspaper editors and journalists, including the Resident Editor of the Indian Express. In the case titled “Vipin Pubby v. State of Haryana and another,” retired Indian Police Service (IPS) Officer Param Vir Rathee initiated defamation charges.

Justice Anoop Chitkara of the High Court determined that the Gurgaon court’s summons against the journalists lacked merit. The individuals involved, including the current Indian Express Resident Editor Manraj Grewal, former Resident Editor Vipin Pubby, and others associated with Daily Ajit (Punjabi) and Ajit Samachar (Hindi), had the defamation proceedings quashed.

Justice Chitkara emphasized that the newspapers and reporters had not committed any offense by publishing a news report about Rathee. The court stressed the importance of protecting journalists’ interests, highlighting their crucial role as independent monitors of power, reporting information for the public good and safety.

The judge underscored news reporters’ duty to the citizenry, serving as vital contributors to a democracy’s functioning. Facing challenges and pressures from influential parties or government agencies, journalists require proactive safeguarding by constitutional courts.

Rathee had filed a defamation complaint in 2008, naming 18 major newspapers and objecting to a news item published in The Indian Express titled “Accused says he bribed ADGP, sought police protection.” The news reported that an accused confessed to the Central Bureau of Investigation that Rathee recommended police protection after taking a bribe.

Upon careful consideration, the High Court opined that The Indian Express had engaged in investigative journalism, presenting Rathee’s version alongside other perspectives. Rathee did not contest the accuracy of his version in the news item, nor did he claim ill intentions by the journalists.

The court acknowledged the journalist’s adherence to ethical standards, displaying reasonableness and impartiality by including Rathee’s viewpoint before crafting the news report. The reporter explicitly mentioned Rathee’s denial and the police’s corroboration, demonstrating responsibility and decency in reporting.

Consequently, the court found The Indian Express, its reporter, and editors entitled to the exceptions under Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) related to defamation. It emphasized that the newspaper acted within the constitutional parameters of freedom of speech and expression.

In the case of Ajit newspaper’s managing editor Barjinder Singh Hamdard, the court quashed the summons, noting that Rathee failed to satisfy fundamental requirements under Section 499 IPC. The court found no evidence that the news published in Ajit Samachar reached the public and recognized the correct reporting of statements made by individuals involved.

In conclusion, the Punjab and Haryana High Court’s decision is a significant affirmation of journalists’ role in a democracy and the importance of safeguarding their interests. The court’s emphasis on proactive protection for journalists highlights the challenges they face in reporting the truth and reinforces the constitutional principles of freedom of speech and expression. This ruling sets a precedent for responsible journalism, balancing the right to information with the protection of individuals’ reputations.

Punjab and Haryana High Court Sets ₹10k Compensation per Tooth Mark in Stray Animal Attacks

In a recent ruling, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has taken a decisive step to ensure fair compensation for victims of stray animal attacks in Punjab, Haryana, and Chandigarh. The judgment, dated August 18, 2023, addresses 193 petitions seeking compensation for injuries or deaths resulting from encounters with stray or wild animals on public streets and national highways.

The court acknowledged the confusion among victims and their families regarding the proper authorities for seeking compensation. Noting the lack of awareness and insufficient financial assistance, the court established committees in Punjab, Haryana, and Chandigarh to streamline the compensation application process. Guidelines were also issued to expedite the decision-making on compensation claims.

Of particular note is the court’s directive on compensation for stray dog bites. The judgment stipulates a minimum compensation of ₹10,000 per tooth mark of the dog. Additionally, in cases where flesh has been pulled off the skin, the compensation should be a minimum of ₹20,000 per “0.2 cm” of the wound. The court clarified that compensation amounts would be in accordance with the respective state policies, with Chandigarh following Punjab’s policy for being more beneficial.

Importantly, the court emphasized that seeking compensation through the committee would not prevent claimants from approaching a civil court if necessary.

Justice Vinod S Bhardwaj expressed concern about the broader issue of increasing fatalities and the growing number of stray animals on roads. The court criticized the government for neglecting the problem, highlighting the daily suffering of people due to injuries and the under-recording of incidents. The court stressed that the denial of the problem does not address it but exacerbates citizens’ agony.

The court reminded the government of its strict liability to compensate the public for failing to protect them from animal attacks. It pointed out that the government collects road tax/user fees and local bodies levy various taxes/fees/cess, indicating their responsibility to ensure public safety.

To expedite compensation for victims of animal attacks or vehicle collisions, the court outlined a procedure for timely action:

  1. Daily Diary Report (DDR): The Station House Officer (SHO) must record a DDR promptly upon receiving information about an accident due to a stray or wild animal.
  2. Verification and Statement Recording: The police officer should verify the claim, record witness statements, and prepare a site plan and summary.
  3. Forwarding Information: A copy of the report should be sent to the claimant, and the complete report should be provided within 30 days of receiving the information.

The court’s proactive measures aim to address the immediate needs of victims while highlighting the responsibility of authorities in safeguarding citizens from animal-related incidents. The ruling stands as a crucial step towards ensuring justice and relief for those affected by such unfortunate events.