Ramlila crackdown: Jaitley welcome SC verdict

New Delhi: BJP leader Arun Jaitley on Sunday welcomed the Supreme Court judgement on crackdown on Ramdev's supporters but said the charge of "contributory negligence" on the protesters needs to be debated and reconsidered as it amounts to surrender of the right to protest.

In an article, Jaitley said the apex court judgement lays a "landmark law" as it upholds the right to protest in a peaceful way as a fundamental right of speech and Assemble.

"However, it shakes the foundation of the fundamental right by laying down a highly doubtful proposition that once the right to protest is denied, the protester must meekly accept the denial or run the risk of a contributory negligence to the police oppression," he said.

The Supreme Court has held the protesters responsible for "contributory negligence" and asked Ramdev's foundation - Bharat Swabhiman Trust - to pay 25 per cent of the compensation to the dead and the injured.

"This part of the judgement requires to be extensively debated and possibly reconsidered," Jaitley said.

The eminent lawyer said this charge by the court against Ramdev and his supporters undoes the advantage of an otherwise landmark judgement.

"If a protester is within his constitutional rights to organise a peaceful protest, he is equally within his rights not to accept an illegal order denying his right to protest.

He runs the risk of being punished if the order is held to be lawful," Jaitley said.

He insisted that a citizen cannot be compelled to abdicate his fundamental rights merely because the state decides to restrict his right to protest.

Jaitley said the verdict is understood to mean that every time a person's fundamental right to protest is intercepted by the state, he must immediately comply with the order or run the risk of being liable for contributory negligence.

"Admittedly, neither the imposition of section 144 in this case nor the withdrawal of permission or the manner of forcible eviction were lawful (in Ramdev's case). Why should the protesters have accepted such an order? How then can the principle of contributory negligence be imposed on a protester who was exercising his fundamental right to protest?" he asked.

Jaitley defined contributory negligence as a defence where a person who is wronged could have acted in his own interest and taken due care and caution so that not to contribute to the injury.

"Its application to restrict the exercise of fundamental right is wholly unwarranted and legally untenable...It cannot be used to dilute the width and exercise of a fundamental right," the BJP leader said.