This article on “THE LEGITIMACY OF CALLING BANDHS OR STRIKES” is written by Saksham Suneja student of Modi Law College, Kota.
WHAT IS BANDH?
The word bandh is borrowed from the Hindi language which means to close or shut down, it’s a type of protest commonly used by the people of the country to protest. Political parties consider doing bandh or strike as their fundamental right and they make it their basic norm to protest against the government by raising or exploiting the politically sensitive issue to gain popularity or whenever they want to be heard. “Bharat Bandh” is a type that summons for a closure across India which can be called by an individual group or a state or municipality. It’s a powerful means of civil disobedience, “a great tool of protest in the hands of people”, but forced contact with police authorities, compel closures, burglary, arson attacks, stoning is also common during the period of closure.
When bandh is called, people are expected not to travel, not to carry on their trade, not to attend their work, political parties and organizations forcibly close shops and halt public transport, even the private vehicles is not allowed to run on the road. All the government offices, private establishment, shops, educational institutes, post offices, and banks etc. is not allowed to function. It takes away the basic rights of the citizens. The life of general people gets affected the most, causes harm to their mental health, private property, and the overall administration of the country. Many times people observe these protests on the account of fear, no public opinion is taken into account and therefore this led to the failure of protest many times.
- On the 8th of January, 2020 ten Central Trade Unions like All India Trade Union Congress, Hindu Majdoor Sabha, and Centre of Indian Trade Union (CITU) had called a 24-hour nationwide strike to protest against the government. The main aim was to reverse the anti-working policies of the government, to oppose the privatization and selling of Public Sector Undertaking (PSU), forced the merger of banks as it is detrimental to the national interest and national development. Over 25 crore workers participated in this strike.
- On 5th July 2010 and 31st May 2012, the nationwide strike was called by National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and other non-Union Public Alliance (UPA) parties to protest against the hike in fuel prices, prevented the Indians from carrying out their daily strike especially in the states ruled by NDA.
- One noteworthy incident of the bandh was held in September 2002 after the Akshardham Temple Attack. It was the first time in history that a nationwide strike was called after a tragic incident. All of India was completely shutdown right from the tea stalls to the big companies, stock market, etc.
- In 2006 West Bengal, Trinamool Congress leader Mamta Banerjee had called five consecutive Bandhs in a state, demanding Chief-Minister resignation because the charred body of one teenage girl was unearthed in the city called Singpur.
It caused great harm to all the sectors, the Chairman of Birla Group of Companies BK Birla commented, “It doesn’t help anyone in the long run. On the contrary, it will have an impact on the state’s economy.
- On the 6th of December 2009, the 48-hour bandh was imposed in Telangana by Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) demanding separate statehood which affected the lives of people and disturbed the transport system at a large scale.
No doubt that there must be a separate room for vigorous protest and dissent in any democracy. However, bandh accomplishes little than other massive losses and India is a developing nation it shouldn’t afford a one-day shutdown too. As per the report of government officials, a one-day strike causes an approximate loss of 25,000–30,000 crore rupees.
It affected the nation to the roots, disturb the whole administration so badly that’s just unimaginable, and may also paralyze the economy. People who join the protest don’t know that it will ultimately affect them later with high prices, loss of capital, more taxes, imports, and it overall harm the ongoing development process. The Economy which was already shaken due to corrupt bureaucrats, politicians, and improper budget planning by the government, the unwanted strike deteriorates it even more.
It’s very unfortunate to see that almost all of the Bharat Bandhs are sponsored by political parties, not for the sake of the public but for the benefit of their party. It doesn’t give any solution but only makes the population suffer.
Many political thinkers had also shown their concern regarding the same:-
In 2012 Former Finance Minister Mr. P Chidambaram said, “The net effect of the strike is greater economic loss. When you protest, you should not protest in a manner that causes economic loss”.
Former Information and Broadcasting Minster Mrs. Ambika Soni said that while the limited protest was all right, it should not to be an extent that “cause harm” to the interest of people.
Former Union Law Minister Mr. Salman Khurshid added the government was pushing reforms to give “massive” economic growth to the country and “if opposition slows down that, we won’t get it but what they have done today”
BAN ON BANDHS:
In the landmark decision of Bharat Kumar K Palicha v. The State of Kerala, a full bench of Kerala High Court has declared “BANDH” organized by political parties as unconstitutional because it infringes the fundamental rights of the citizens. The court refuses to entertain this on the ground of the “right to speech” and “right to expression”.
Whenever bandh is called people are forced not to travel, not to carry on their trade and, attend their work. It not only includes a fear of injury but also a destruction of property.
The High Court declared that a call for bandh by any organization, association, or political parties is illegal and unconstitutional, the court added; “that a bandh is different from a general strike or hartal”. The Supreme Court accepted the decision of the High Court and declared that any sort of ‘hooliganism’ will not be tolerated in the name of the bandh.
But political parties and many organizations still organize them.
In 2004 the Bombay High Court fined Shiv Sena and Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) for Rs.20 lakh for organizing a bandh in Mumbai as a protest against bomb blasts in the city.
In Ranchi Bar Association v. The State of Bihar, following the decision of the Supreme Court mentioned above, the Patna High Court declared that no party has a right to organize a “BANDH”
On 6th January 2010, the Gauhati High Court declared ‘bandh’ as illegal and unconstitutional in the light of the 1997 Supreme Court judgment.
In the case of Sri Anriruddha Das v. The State of Assam, the Gauhati High Court explicitly held that road and rail blockade are variants of bandhs and thus is “illegal and unconstitutional”. The organizer would be prosecuted under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, The Railways Act, 1989, and National Highways Act, 1956.
WHAT IF THE DEMONSTRATION IS ORGANIZED?
Taking a serious note of various instances of large-scale destruction of public and private property in the name of bandhs, hartals, and strikes, the Supreme Court took a suo moto proceeding and appointed the committees to give suggestions regarding the same. After considering the reports, the following guidelines were issued for what should be done if the demonstration is organized:-
- The Organizer should meet the police to review and revise the route to be taken and lay down the conditions for a peaceful march of protest.
- All weapons, including arms, knives, lathis should be prohibited.
- Proper telecast of protest on television should be ensured.
- If any problem arises, the highest Police Office available at that time should supervise the matter.
- Police should inform the state government to take some required action.
- The state government should prepare a report based on the information provided by the Police and file a petition in High Court in question to take suo moto action.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN STRIKE, HARTAL, AND BANDHS
General strike and hartal have mainly no difference; it involves the voluntarily closing of schools and business place. It can also be done by private organizations and is legal if done in a peaceful manner.
Whereas bandh is called by political parties and it denotes an element of coercion. This may involve violence and harm to property, i.e. why they are illegal.
Therefore, from the above cases, we came to know that protests like strikes can be organized if it will be held peacefully. But if we look at the previous incident of bandhs, we find that it only disturbs the peaceful environment, causes inconvenience to the public, violated their fundamental rights, promoted inhuman activities, and also has a profound impact on our economy. Party considers it as a tool for protest against the government but most of it is for their benefit only.
- Bharat Kumar K Palicha v. State of Kerala. I.R. 1997 Ker 291 (India).
- Ranchi Bar Association v. The State of Bihar, AIR 1999 BLJR 567 (India).
- Sri Aniruddha Das Vs The State Of Assam And 11 Ors. 2013 WP(C) 7570 (India).
- TNN, Wb takes the cake when it comes to bandhs, THE ET (Dec18, 2016, 10:30 PM), https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/wb-takes-the-cake-when-it-comes-to-bandhs/articleshow/842652.cms?from=mdr
- PTI, Bharat bandh cost Rs 25,000 crore to economy: Chambers, THE INDIAN EXPRESS (Sept 2, 2015, 08:31 PM), https://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/one-day-strike-cost-rs-25000-crore-to-economy-chambers/
- Indian Today Online, Bharat Bandh Caused Immense Economic loss to the Nation: Govt, THE INDIAN TODAY, (Sept21, 20121 05:30 PM)
- Himanshu Shekhar Mishra, Bharat Bandh Tomorrow: Know Date, Timing, Workers’ Demands – All You Need To Know, NDTV, (Jan07, 2020, 08:45 PM)
- Jim Yardley, Bid to Partition Indian State Leads to Political Paralysis, N.Y. TIMES, (Dec14, 2009) https://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/15/world/asia/15india.html