In a recent and noteworthy ruling, Justice GR Swaminathan of the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court has delivered a verdict that resounds with broader implications. The court has denied relief to a lawyer who sought compensation for injuries sustained during a PFI (Popular Front of India) march. At the heart of this ruling lies a profound principle: the rule of law applies not only to the machinery of the state but also to private individuals. The lawyer, in this case, had sought compensation, alleging that the police had subjected him to undue brutality during the march.
The petitioner, who is a lawyer by profession, had approached the court with the contention that PFI had plans to host a public meeting on February 17, 2014, in the town of Ramanathapuram. Initially, the police had granted permission for the meeting itself, but they had firmly denied consent for the procession that was intended to precede it. Subsequently, permission was reluctantly granted for the procession, stretching from Chinnakadai Junction to Santhaipettai Thidal, the selected meeting venue. However, the lawyer argued vehemently that during the assembly, certain private individuals stirred up trouble, leading to a lathi charge by the police that resulted in injuries. Therefore, he sought compensation for the physical harm he endured.
The court, in its meticulous examination of the case, made a notable observation. It pointed out that PFI had initiated their assembly not from the specified area but from a different location altogether. This raised a crucial question – if PFI found the conditions imposed by the police disagreeable, why did they not resort to the judicial route and approach the court for a resolution, instead of taking matters into their own hands by commencing the march from an unauthorized location?
Furthermore, the court took cognizance of a criminal case that had been registered against the petitioner and others for alleged attacks on the police. This case was still pending at the time of the ruling. Additionally, the court gave due weight to a report filed by the Inspector General of Police, SID, CB-CID, which substantiated the actions taken by the police during the event.
Lack of Substantial Evidence:
Despite the ubiquity of visual media in today’s digital age, the court found itself grappling with a paucity of substantive evidence to support the petitioner’s claims of excessive police force. The judge, in a keenly analytical stance, noted that the petitioner had failed to furnish any material evidence such as videos or photographs that could corroborate his assertion that the police had used disproportionate force without any provocation from the PFI members.
Turning its attention to the matter of compensation, the court underlined the importance of providing prompt and cost-free medical treatment to those who suffer injuries in such situations. However, the court spotlighted an important facet of this case – the petitioner had chosen to admit himself to a private hospital. In light of this, the court reasoned,
“The State cannot be expected to bear the cost of treatment if the petitioner chose to get himself admitted in a private institution. It is not the case of the petitioner that the authorities of the government hospital declined to provide treatment.”
Conclusively, considering these comprehensive observations and the conspicuous absence of compelling evidence, the Madras High Court rendered a verdict, one that carries significant implications. It was the court’s considered opinion that there was no substantial basis upon which relief could be granted to the petitioner. Hence, the court, in a decision emblematic of the importance of upholding the rule of law, not just for government entities but also for private individuals participating in public gatherings and protests, opted to dismiss the petitions.
In doing so, Justice GR Swaminathan reiterated the overarching principle that the law, impartial and indiscriminate, extends its reach not merely to the apparatus of the state but also to individual citizens. This ruling serves as a poignant reminder of the significance of respecting legal processes and channels even in the midst of fervent activism.