Those Lucky Holidays May Soon Be Lost

Hartals are a part of life in Kerala and, in spite of repeated efforts by the courts and various governments to curb it, it has remained so. While many Malayalis take it as an alternative holiday, others, including most political parties and trade unions, see these mass agitations as a way to protest against injustice and social inequities. Now a fresh effort to regulate hartals is in the works. A new bill has been drafted following High Court directive.

The draft bill puts many restrictions on conducting hartal. The most significant constraint is that the supporters of hartal are hereafter required to set aside advance compensations to remedy any possible damages caused due to the hartal.

Another important restrain is that a three-day advance notification is to be given before conducting hartals. Also, hartal supporters are not to hinder the functioning of commercial establishments and shops before 6 am or after 6 pm. According to the draft bill, the government has the authority to cancel any notified hartal especially in cases where essential government services could be troubled.

photo courtesy: The Hindu
photo courtesy: The Hindu

However, under the new bill, the restriction would not apply to strikes declared by service and trade unions.

Also, nobody should be forced to partake in any hartal by psychological or physical means. The bill also instructs that educational and religious institutions and public services should not be affected and that violence and damage to property should be avoided at any cost during hartal.

Violation of the new regulations is punishable with six months’ imprisonment or fine up to Rs 10,000. Also, police officers who do not help those who ask for it during hartal can be penalized up to Rs 10,000.

It was on October 29, 1997 that Kerala High Court passed the historical judgment which declared a ‘bandh’ to be unconstitutional. This ruling was later supported by the Supreme Court.

However, last year, the HC said a similar ban on hartals was not possible in the absence of an enabling law. The Full Bench of the HC delivered the verdict on a group of petitions which sought a ban on hartals by political parties and others.

The court said a ban on hartals could be considered as a restriction of freedom of speech and expression and directed the state government to formulate a new law within the scope of fundamental rights in order to keep a check on hartals.