Supreme Court of India
Re-Ramlila Maidan Incident Dt ... vs Home Secretary And Ors on 23 February, 2012
FINDINGS AND DIRECTIONS :
(1) In discharge of its judicial functions, the courts do not strike down the law or quash the State action with the aim of obstructing democracy in the name of preserving democratic process, but as a contribution to the governmental system, to make it fair, judicious and transparent. The courts take care of interests which are not sufficiently defended elsewhere and/or of the victims of State action, in exercise of its power of judicial review.
In my considered view, in the facts of the present case, the State and the Police could have avoided this tragic incident by exercising greater restraint, patience and resilience. The orders were passed by the authorities in undue haste and were executed with force and overzealousness, as if an emergent situation existed. The decision to forcibly evict the innocent public sleeping at the Ramlila grounds in the midnight of 4th/5th June, 2011, whether taken by the police independently or in consultation with the Ministry of Home Affairs is amiss and suffers from the element of arbitrariness and abuse of power to some extent. The restriction imposed on the right to freedom of speech and expression was unsupported by cogent reasons and material facts. It was an invasion of the liberties and exercise of fundamental freedoms.
The members of the assembly had legal protections available to them even under the provisions of the Cr.P.C. Thus, the restriction was unreasonable and unwarrantedly executed.
The action demonstrated the might of the State and was an assault on the very basic democratic values enshrined in our Constitution. Except in cases of emergency or the situation unexceptionably demanding so, reasonable notice/time for execution of the order or compliance with the directions issued in the order itself or in furtherance thereto is the pre-requisite. It was primarily an error of performance of duty both by the police and respondent No.4 but the ultimate sufferer was the public at large.
(2) From the facts and circumstances that emerge from the record before this Court, it is evident that it was not a case of emergency. The police have failed to establish that a situation had arisen where there was imminent need to intervene, having regard to the sensitivity and perniciously perilous consequences that could have resulted, if such harsh measures had not been taken forthwith.
(3) The State has a duty to ensure fulfillment of the freedom enshrined in our Constitution and so it has a duty to protect itself against certain unlawful actions. It may, therefore, enact laws which would ensure such protection. The rights and the liberties are not absolute in nature and uncontrolled in operation. While placing the two, the rule of justice and fair play requires that State action should neither be unjust nor unfair, lest it attracts the vice of unreasonableness or arbitrariness, resultantly vitiating the law, the procedure and the action taken thereunder.
(4) It is neither correct nor judicially permissible to say that taking of police permission for holding of dharnas, processions and rallies of the present kind is irrelevant or not required in law. Thus, in my considered opinion, the requirement of associating police, which is an important organ of the State for ensuring implementation of the rule of law, while holding such large scale meetings, dharnas and protests, would not infringe the fundamental rights enshrined under Articles 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(b) of the Constitution. This would squarely fall within the regulatory mechanism of reasonable restrictions, contemplated under Articles 19(2) and 19(3). Furthermore, it would help in ensuring due social order and would also not impinge upon the rights of others, as contemplated under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The police authorities, who are required to maintain the social order and public tranquility, should have a say in the organizational matters relating to holding of dharnas, processions, agitations and rallies of the present kind. However, such consent should be considered in a very objective manner by the police authorities to ensure the exercise of the right to freedom of speech and expression as understood in its wider connotation, rather than use the power to frustrate or throttle the constitutional right.
Refusal and/or withdrawal of permission should be for valid and exceptional reasons. The executive power, to cause a restriction on a constitutional right within the scope of Section 144 Cr.P.C., has to be used sparingly and very cautiously.
The authority of the police to issue such permission has an inbuilt element of caution and guided exercise of power and should be in the interest of the public. Such an exercise of power by the Police should be aimed at attainment of fundamental freedom rather than improper suppression of the said right.
(5) I have held that the respondent no.4 is guilty of contributory negligence. The Trust and its representatives ought to have discharged their legal and moral duty and should have fully cooperated in the effective implementation of a lawful order passed by the competitive authority under Section 144 Cr.P.C.
Due to the stature that Baba Ramdev enjoyed with his followers, it was expected of him to request the gathering to disperse peacefully and leave the Ramlila Maidan. He ought not have insisted on continuing with his activity at the place of occurrence. Respondent no.4 and all its representatives were bound by the constitutional and fundamental duty to safeguard public property and to abjure violence. Thus, there was legal and moral duty cast upon the members of the Trust to request and persuade people to leave the Ramlila Maidan which could have obviously avoided the confrontation between the police and the members of the gathering at the Ramlila Maidan.
(6) As difficult as it is to anticipate the right to any freedom or liberty without any reasonable restriction, equally difficult it is to imagine existence of a right not coupled with a duty. The duty may be a direct or an indirect consequence of a fair assertion of the right. Part III of the Constitution, although confers rights, duties, regulations and restrictions are inherent thereunder.
It can be stated with certainty that the freedom of speech is the bulwark of democratic Government. This freedom is essential for the appropriate functioning of the democratic process. The freedom of speech and expression is regarded as the first condition of liberty in the hierarchy of liberties granted under our constitutional mandate.
(7) It is undisputable that the provisions of Section 144 Cr.P.C.
are attracted in emergent situations. Emergent power has to be exercised for the purposes of maintaining public order.
The material facts, therefore, should demonstrate that the action is being taken for maintenance of public order, public tranquility and harmony.
(8) Even if an order under Section 144 Cr.P.C. had to be given effect to, still Respondent no.4 had a right to stay at the Ramlila Maidan with permissible number of people as the land owning authority-MCD had not revoked its permission and the same was valid till 20th June, 2011. The chain of events reveals that it was a case of police excesses and, to a limited extent, even abuse of power.
(9) From the material placed before the Court, I am unable to hold that the order passed by the competent authority and execution thereof are mala fide in law or in fact or is an abdication of power and functions by the Police. The action, of course, partially suffers from the vice of arbitrariness but every arbitrary action necessarily need not be mala fide.
Similarly every incorrect decision in law or on facts of a given case may also not be mala fide but every mala fide decision would be an incorrect and impermissible decision and would be vitiated in law. Upon taking into consideration the cumulative effect of the affidavits filed on record and other documentary evidence, I am unable to dispel the argument that the decision of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Union of India reflected its shadow on the decision making process and decision of the Police authorities.
(10) I also find that there would be no illegality if the police authorities had acted in consultation with the Union Ministry as it is the collective responsibility of various departments of the State to ensure maintenance of law and order and public safety in the State.
(11) Every person/body to whom such permission is granted, shall give an undertaking to the authorities concerned that he/it will cooperate in carrying out their duty and any lawful orders passed by any competent court/authority/forum at any stage of the commencement of an agitation/dharna/ procession and/or period during which the permission granted is enforced. This, of course, shall be subject to such orders as may be passed by the court of competent jurisdiction.
(12) Even on the touchstone of the principle of `in terrorem', I am of the view that the police have not acted with restraint or adhered to the principle of `least invasion' with the constitutional and legal rights available to respondent no.4 and the members of the gathering at the Ramlila Maidan.
(13) The present case is a glaring example of trust deficit between the people governing and the people to be governed. Greater confidence needs to be built between the authorities in power and the public at large. Thus, I hold and direct that while considering the `threat perception' as a ground for revoking such permissions or passing an order under Section 144 Cr.P.C., `care perception' has to be treated as an integral part thereof. `Care perception' is an obligation of the State while performing its constitutional duty and maintaining social order.
(14) It is unavoidable for this Court to direct that the police authorities should take such actions properly and strictly in accordance with the Guidelines, Standing Orders and the Rules applicable thereto. It is not only desirable but also a mandatory requirement of the present day that the State and the police authorities should have a complete and effective dispersement plan in place, before evicting the gathering by use of force from a particular place, in furtherance to an order passed by an executive authority under Section 144 of the Cr.P.C.
(15) This is not a case where the Court can come to the conclusion that the entire police force has acted in violation to the Rules, Standing orders and have fallen stray in their uncontrolled zeal of forcibly evicting innocent public from the Ramlila Maidan. There has to be a clear distinction between the cases of responsibility of the force collectively and the responsibility of individual members of the forces. I find from the evidence on record that some of the police officers/personnel were very cooperative with the members of the assembly and helped them to vacate the Ramlila Maidan while others were violent, inflicted cane injuries, threw bricks and even used tear-gas shells, causing fire on the stage and total commotion and confusion amongst the large gathering at the Ramlila Maidan.
Therefore, these two classes of Police Force have to be treated differently.
(16) Thus, while directing the State Government and the Commissioner of Police to register and investigate cases of criminal acts and offences, destruction of private and public property against the police officers/personnel along with those members of the assembly, who threw bricks at the police force causing injuries to the members of the force as well as damage to the property, I issue the following directions:
a. Take disciplinary action against all the erring police officers/personnel who have indulged in brick-batting, have resorted to lathi charge and excessive use of tear gas shells upon the crowd, have exceeded their authority or have acted in a manner not permissible under the prescribed procedures, rules or the standing orders and their actions have an element of criminality. This action shall be taken against the officer/personnel irrespective of what ranks they hold in the hierarchy of police.
b. The police personnel who were present in the pandal and still did not help the evacuation of the large gathering and in transportation of sick and injured people to the hospitals have, in my opinion, also rendered themselves liable for appropriate disciplinary action.
c. The police shall also register criminal cases against the police personnel and members of the gathering at the Ramlila ground (whether they were followers of Baba Ramdev or otherwise) who indulged in damage to the property, brick-batting etc. All these cases have already been reported to the Police Station Kamla Market. The police shall complete the investigation and file a report under section 173 of the Cr.P.C. within three months from today.
(17) I also direct that the persons who died or were injured in this unfortunate incident should be awarded ad hoc compensation. Smt. Rajbala, who got spinal injury in the incident and subsequently died, would be entitled to the ad-
hoc compensation of Rs.5 lacs while persons who suffered grievous injuries and were admitted to the hospital would be entitled to compensation of Rs.50,000/- each and persons who suffered simple injuries and were taken to the hospital but discharged after a short while would be entitled to a compensation of Rs.25,000/- each.
For breach of the legal and moral duty and for its contributory negligence, the consequences of financial liability would also pass, though to a limited extent, upon the respondent no.4-
Trust as well. Thus, I direct that in cases of death and grievous hurt, 25% of the awarded compensation shall be paid by the Trust. The said amount shall be paid to the Commissioner of Police, who in turn, shall issue a cheque for the entire amount in favour of the injured or the person claiming for the deceased.
The compensation awarded by this Court shall be treated as ad-hoc compensation and in the event, the deceased or the injured persons or the persons claiming through them institute any legal proceedings for that purpose, the compensation awarded in this judgment shall be adjusted in those proceedings.
Supreme Court of India
Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan vs Union Of India on 23 July, 2018
In Babulal Parate v. State of Maharashtra , this Court observed:
“The right of citizens to take out processions or to hold public meetings flows from the right in Art. 19(1)(b) to assemble peacably and without arms and the right to move anywhere in the territory of India.”
In Kameshwar Prasad v. State of Bihar the Court was mainly dealing with the question whether the right to make a demonstration is protected under Article 19(1)(a) and (b) and whether a government servant is entitled to this right. This Court held :
“A demonstration might take the form of an assembly and even then the intention is to convey to the person or authority to whom the communication is intended the feelings of the group which assembles. It necessarily follows that there are forms of demonstration which would fall within the freedoms guaranteed by Art. 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(b). It is needless to add that from the very nature of things a demonstration may take various forms; it may be noisy and disorderly, for instance stone-throwing by a crowd may be cited as an example of a violent and disorderly demonstration and this would not obviously be within Art. 19(1)(a) or (b). It can equally be peaceful and orderly such as happens when the members of the group merely wear some badge drawing attention to their grievance.”
The Supreme Court has also gone beyond upholding the right to protest as a fundamental right and has held that the State must aid the right to assembly of the citizens. In the Constitution Bench Judgment, Himat Lal K. Shah v. Commissioner of Police, Ahmedabad , while dealing with the challenge to the Rules framed under the Bombay Police Act regulating public meetings on streets, held that the Government has power to regulate which includes prohibition of public meetings on streets or highways to avoid nuisance or disruption to traffic and thus, it can provide a public meeting on roads, but it does not mean that the government can close all the streets or open areas for public meetings, thus denying the fundamental right which flows from Article 19(1)(a) and (b). The Court held:
“33. This is true but nevertheless the State cannot by law abridge or take away the right of assembly by prohibiting assembly on every public street or public place. The State can only make regulations in aid of the right of assembly of each citizen and can only impose reasonable restrictions in the interest of public order."
Public meeting in open spaces and public streets forms part of the tradition of our national life. In the pre- Independence days such meetings have been held in open space and public streets and the people have come to regard it as a part of their privileges and immunities. The State and the local authority have a virtual monopoly of every open space at which an outdoor meeting can be held. If, therefore, the State or Municipality can constitutionally close both its streets and its parks entirely to public meetings, the practical result would be that it would be impossible to hold any open-air meetings in any large city. The real problem is that of reconciling the city's function of providing for the exigencies of traffic in its streets and for the recreation of the public in its parks, with its other obligations, of providing adequate places for public discussion in order to safeguard the guaranteed right of public assembly. The assumption made by Justice Holmes is that a city owns its parks and highways in the same sense and with the same rights as a private owner owns his property with the right to exclude or admit anyone he pleases. That may not accord with the concept of dedication of public streets and parks. The parks are held for public and the public streets are also held for the public. It is doubtless true that the State or local authority can regulate its property in order to serve its public purposes.
Streets and public parks exist primarily for other purposes and the social interest promoted by untrammelled exercise of freedom of utterance and assembly in public street must yield to social interest which prohibition and regulation of speech are designed to protect. But there is a constitutional difference between reasonable regulation and arbitrary exclusion.”
52) While adjudicating with respect to the validity of police action against protestors, this Court again reiterated that right to protest was a fundamental right guaranteed to the citizens under Article
19. In the case of Ramlila Maidan Incident (supra), the Court observed that the right to assembly and peaceful agitations were basic features of a democratic system and the Government should encourage exercise of these rights:
“245. Freedom of speech, right to assemble and demonstrate by holding dharnas and peaceful agitations are the basic features of a democratic system. The people of a democratic country like ours have a right to raise their voice against the decisions and actions of the Government or even to express their resentment over the actions of the Government on any subject of social or national importance. The Government has to respect and, in fact, encourage exercise of such rights. It is the abundant duty of the State to aid the exercise of the right to freedom of speech as understood in its comprehensive sense and not to throttle or frustrate exercise of such rights by exercising its executive or legislative powers and passing orders or taking action in that direction in the name of reasonable restrictions.
The preventive steps should be founded on actual and prominent threat endangering public order and tranquillity, as it may disturb the social order. This delegated power vested in the State has to be exercised with great caution and free from arbitrariness. It must serve the ends of the constitutional rights rather than to subvert them.”
Bimal Gurun v. Union of India , wherein it was held as under:
“Demonstrations whether political, religious or social or other demonstrations which create public, disturbances or operate as nuisances, or create or manifestly threaten some tangible public or private mischief, are not covered by protection under Article 19(1). A demonstration might take the form of an assembly and even then the intention is to convey to the person or authority to whom the communication is intended the feelings of the group which assembles. From the very nature of things a demonstration may take various forms; “it may be noisy and disorderly”, for instance stone-throwing by a crowd may be cited as an example of a violent and disorderly demonstration and this would not obviously be within Article 19(1)(a) or (b).”
Further, Anita Thakur case , the Court recognised that the right to peaceful protest was a fundamental right under Article 19(1), (b) and (c) of the Constitution, subject to reasonable restrictions. It was finally held that in that while the protestors turned violent first, the police used excessive force:
“12. We can appreciate that holding peaceful demonstration in order to air their grievances and to see that their voice is heard in the relevant quarters is the right of the people. Such a right can be traced to the fundamental freedom that is guaranteed under Articles 19(1)(a), 19(1)(b) and 19(1)(c) of the Constitution. Article 19(1)(a) confers freedom of speech to the citizens of this country and, thus, this provision ensures that the petitioners could raise slogan, albeit in a peaceful and orderly manner, without using offensive language. Article 19(1)(b) confers the right to assemble and, thus, guarantees that all citizens have the right to assemble peacefully and without arms. Right to move freely given under Article 19(1)(d), again, ensures that the petitioners could take out peaceful march. The “right to assemble” is beautifully captured in an eloquent statement that “an unarmed, peaceful protest procession in the land of “salt satyagraha”, fast-unto- death and “do or die” is no jural anathema ”. It hardly needs elaboration that a distinguishing feature of any democracy is the space offered for legitimate dissent. One cherished and valuable aspect of political life in India is a tradition to express grievances through direct action or peaceful protest. Organised, non-violent protest marches were a key weapon in the struggle for Independence, and the right to peaceful protest is now recognised as a fundamental right in the Constitution.
13. Notwithstanding above, it is also to be borne in mind that the aforesaid rights are subject to reasonable restrictions in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, as well as public order. It is for this reason, the State authorities many a times designate particular areas and routes, dedicating them for the purpose of holding public meetings.
15. Thus, while on the one hand, citizens are guaranteed fundamental right of speech, right to assemble for the purpose of carrying peaceful protest processions and right of free movement, on the other hand, reasonable restrictions on such right can be put by law. Provisions of IPC and CrPC, discussed above, are in the form of statutory provisions giving powers to the State to ensure that such public assemblies, protests, dharnas or marches are peaceful and they do not become “unlawful”. At the same time, while exercising such powers, the authorities are supposed to act within the limits of law and cannot indulge into excesses……….”
54) The right to protest is, thus, recognised as a fundamental right under the Constitution. This right is crucial in a democracy which rests on participation of an informed citizenry in governance. This right is also crucial since it strengthens representative democracy by enabling direct participation in public affairs where individuals and groups are able to express dissent and grievances, expose the flaws in governance and demand accountability from State authorities as well a powerful entities. This right is crucial in a vibrant democracy like India but more so in the Indian context to aid in the assertion of the rights of the marginalised and poorly represented minorities.
55) At the same time, aforesaid rights under Article 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(b) of the Constitution are not untrammeled and unlimited in their scope. Article 19(2) to (6) make a specific provision for imposing reasonable restrictions on the rights conferring restrictions on the exercise of such rights. Articles 19(2) and (3), in this behalf read as under:
“(2) Nothing in sub clause (a) of clause ( 1 ) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.
(3) Nothing in sub clause (b) of the said clause shall affect the operation of any existing law in so far as it imposes, or prevent the State from making any law imposing, in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India or public order, reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub clause”
56) It can be deciphered from the aforesaid provisions that exercise of right to speech conferred in clause (a) and right to assemble peacably and without arms in clause (b) is made subject to reasonable restrictions which can be imposed, inter alia, in the interests of sovereignty and integrity of India or public order. This legal position is also accepted by all the parties.
57) In this hue, we have to examine as to whether total ban of demonstrations etc. at Jantar Mantar road amounts to violation of the rights of the protestors of the Constitution or this would amount to a reasonable restriction in the interest of ‘public order’. There would be also an incidental and interrelated issue, namely, whether the manner in which the demonstrations etc. are held at Jantar Mantar, they violate the fundamental right of the residents guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. If the answer is in the affirmative, it would raise another issue, namely, balancing of the two rights. The right of the protestors under Article 19(1)(a) and 19(1)b) of the Constitution and the rights of the residents under Article 21 of the Constitution, as both the rights are fundamental rights.
58) In the aforesaid context, it would be pertinent to point out that there may be situations where conflict may arise between two fundamental rights. Situation can be conflict on inter fundamental rights, intra fundamental rights and, in certain peculiar circumstances, in respect of some person one fundamental right enjoyed by him may come in conflict with the other fundamental right guaranteed to him. In all such situations, the Court has to examine as to where lies the larger public interest while balancing the two conflicting rights. It is the paramount collective interest which would ultimately prevail.
The issue herein is sustenance and balancing of the separate rights, one under Article 19(1)(a) and the other, under Article 21. Hence, the concept of equipoise and counterweighing fundamental rights of one with other person. It is not a case of mere better enjoyment of another freedom. In Acharya Maharajshri Narendra Prasadji Anandprasadji Maharaj v. State of Gujarat, it has been observed that a particular fundamental right cannot exist in isolation in a watertight compartment. One fundamental right of a person may have to coexist in harmony with the exercise of another fundamental right by others and also with reasonable and valid exercise of power by the State in the light of the directive principles in the interests of social welfare as a whole. The Court's duty is to strike a balance between competing claims of different interests. In DTC v. Mazdoor Congress the Court has ruled that articles relating to fundamental rights are all parts of an integrated scheme in the Constitution and their waters must mix to constitute that grand flow of unimpeded and impartial justice; social, economic and political, and of equality of status and opportunity which imply absence of unreasonable or unfair discrimination between individuals or groups or classes. In St. Stephen's College v. University of Delhi this Court while emphasising the need for balancing the fundamental rights observed that: (SCC p. 612, para 96) “96. … It is necessary to mediate between Article 29(2) and Article 30(1), between letter and spirit of these articles, between traditions of the past and the convenience of the present, between society's need for stability and its need for change.”
60) In Asha Ranjan v. State of Bihar and Others, this test of larger public interest to balance two rights has been explained in the following manner:
“57. The aforesaid decision is an authority for the proposition that there can be a conflict between two individuals qua their right under Article 21 of the Constitution and in such a situation, to weigh the balance the test that is required to be applied is the test of larger public interest and further that would, in certain circumstances, advance public morality of the day. To put it differently, the “greater community interest” or “interest of the collective or social order” would be the principle to recognise and accept the right of one which has to be protected.
61. Be it stated, circumstances may emerge that may necessitate for balancing between intra-fundamental rights. It has been distinctly understood that the test that has to be applied while balancing the two fundamental rights or inter fundamental rights, the principles applied may be different than the principle to be applied in intra-conflict between the same fundamental right. To elaborate, as in this case, the accused has a fundamental right to have a fair trial under Article 21 of the Constitution. Similarly, the victims who are directly affected and also form a part of the constituent of the collective, have a fundamental right for a fair trial. Thus, there can be two individuals both having legitimacy to claim or assert the right. The factum of legitimacy is a primary consideration. It has to be remembered that no fundamental right is absolute and it can have limitations in certain circumstances. Thus, permissible limitations are imposed by the State. The said limitations are to be within the bounds of law. However, when there is intra-conflict of the right conferred under the same article, like fair trial in this case, the test that is required to be applied, we are disposed to think, it would be “paramount collective interest” or “sustenance of public confidence in the justice dispensation system”. An example can be cited. A group of persons in the name of “class honour”, as has been stated in Vikas Yadav v. State of U.P., cannot curtail or throttle the choice of a woman. It is because choice of woman in choosing her partner in life is a legitimate constitutional right. It is founded on individual choice that is recognised in the Constitution under Article 19, and such a right is not expected to succumb to the concept of “class honour” or “group thinking”. It is because the sense of class honour has no legitimacy even if it is practised by the collective under some kind of a notion. Therefore, if the collective interest or the public interest that serves the public cause and further has the legitimacy to claim or assert a fundamental right, then only it can put forth that their right should be protected. There can be no denial of the fact that the rights of the victims for a fair trial is an inseparable aspect of Article 21 of the Constitution and when they assert that right by themselves as well as the part of the collective, the conception of public interest gets galvanised. The accentuated public interest in such circumstances has to be given primacy, for it furthers and promotes “Rule of Law”. It may be clarified at once that the test of primacy which is based on legitimacy and the public interest has to be adjudged on the facts of each case and cannot be stated in abstract terms. It will require studied scanning of facts, the competing interests and the ultimate perception of the balancing that would subserve the larger public interest and serve the majesty of rule of law. In this regard, we are reminded of an ancient saying:
“Yadapi siddham, loka viruddham Na adaraniyam, na acharaniyam” The aforesaid saying lays stress on public interest and its significance and primacy over certain individual interest. It may not thus have general application, but the purpose of referring to the same is that on certain occasions it can be treated to be appropriate.
62. There may be a perception that if principle of primacy is to be followed, then the right of one gets totally extinguished. It has to be borne in mind that total extinction is not balancing. When balancing act is done, the right to fair trial is not totally crippled, but it is curtailed to some extent by which the accused gets the right of fair trial and simultaneously, the victims feel that the fair trial is conducted and the court feels assured that there is a fair trial in respect of such cases. That apart, the faith of the collective is reposed in the criminal justice dispensation system and remains anchored.”
As noted above, the orders issued under Section 144 prohibit certain activities in the nature of demonstrations etc. ‘without permission’, meaning thereby permission can be granted in certain cases. There can, therefore, be proper guidelines laying down the parameters under which permission can be granted in the Boat Club area. It can be a very restrictive and limited use, because of the sensitivities pointed out by the respondents and also keeping in mind that Ramlila Maidan is available and Jantar Mantar Road in a regulated manner shall be available as well, in a couple of months. Thus, the proposed guidelines may include the provisions for regulating the numbers of persons intending to participate in such demonstrations, prescribing the minimum distance from the Parliament House, North and South Blocks, Supreme Court, residences of dignitaries etc. within which no such demonstrations would be allowed; imposing restrictions on certain routes where normally the Prime Minister, Central Ministers, Judges etc pass through; not permitting any demonstrations when foreign dignitaries are visiting a particular place or pass through the particular route; not allowing firearms, lathis, spears, swords, etc. to be carried by demonstrators; not allowing them to bring animals or pitch tents or stay overnight; prescribing time limits for such demonstrations; and placing restrictions on such demonstrations, etc. during peak traffic hours. To begin with, authorities can permit those processions and demonstrations which are innocuous by their very nature. Illustratively, school children carrying out procession to advance some social cause or candle march by peace loving group of persons against a social evil or tragic incident. These are some of the examples given by us to signify that such demonstrations can be effectively regulated by adopting various measures instead of banning them altogether by rejecting every request for such demonstrations. We, therefore, feel that in respect of this area as well the authorities can formulate proper and requisite guidelines. We direct the Commissioner of Police, New Delhi, to undertake this exercise, in consultation with other authorities, within two months from today.
Supreme Court of India
Amit Sahni vs Commissioner Of Police on 7 October, 2020
In Himat Lal K. Shah v. Commissioner of Police, Ahmedabad & Anr.,1 a challenge was made to the rules framed by the Commissioner of Police, Ahmedabad, by the powers conferred under Section 33(1)(o) of the Bombay Police Act, 1951. One of these rules required prior permission to be taken for the holding of public meetings. The Supreme Court opined that the State can only make regulations in aid of the right of assembly of each citizen and can only impose reasonable restrictions in the interests of public order. With regard to whether or not these rules violated Article 19(1)(b) of the Constitution of India, it was held that while the State cannot impose any unreasonable restrictions, a right to hold meetings on public streets was subject to the control of the appropriate authority regarding the time and place of the meeting and subject to considerations of public order. However, as the rule requiring prior permission of the concerned authority did not contain any guidance as to when such permission to hold a public meeting may be refused, it was found that the same conferred arbitrary powers and gave an unguided discretion to the concerned authority, and this was accordingly held to be ultra vires Article 19(1)(b) of the Constitution.
In Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan v. Union of India & Anr., this Court was concerned with regulating the aspect of demonstrations in the earmarked space by the concerned authorities at Jantar Mantar. The judgment endeavoured to emphasise on the principle of balancing the interests of the residents in the area vis-à-vis the interests of protestors to hold demonstrations at Jantar Mantar. The concerned police authority was directed to devise a proper mechanism for the limited use of the Jantar Mantar area for peaceful protests and demonstrations and to lay down parameters for the same. With regard to the orders being passed under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 prohibiting activities like holding public meetings, processions, etc. in areas in and around the Parliament area, the Court noted that the tenor and language of such orders indicated that the concerned authority was to examine every request and take a decision as to whether it should or should not allow the proposed demonstration, public meeting etc., keeping in view its likely effect, namely, whether it would cause any obstruction to traffic, danger to human safety or disturbance to public tranquility, etc. However, as such orders were repeatedly being passed, the same were held to amount to create a situation of perpetuity, and also amounted to what would be equivalent to the “banning” of public meetings, demonstrations, etc. The police and other concerned authorities were accordingly directed to formulate proper and requisite guidelines for regulating protests in and around the area.
16. India, as we know it today, traces its foundation back to when the seeds of protest during our freedom struggle were sown deep, to eventually flower into a democracy. What must be kept in mind, however, is that the erstwhile mode and manner of dissent against colonial rule cannot be equated with dissent in a self- ruled democracy. Our Constitutional scheme comes with the right to protest and express dissent, but with an obligation towards certain duties. Article 19, one of the cornerstones of the Constitution of India, confers upon its citizens two treasured rights, i.e., the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) and the right to assemble peacefully without arms under Article 19(1)(b). These rights, in cohesion, enable every citizen to assemble peacefully and protest against the actions or inactions of the State. The same must be respected and encouraged by the State, for the strength of a democracy such as ours lies in the same. These rights are subject to reasonable restrictions, which, inter alia, pertain to the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India and public order, and to the regulation by the concerned police authorities in this regard. Additionally, as was discussed in the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan case, each fundamental right, be it of an individual or of a class, does not exist in isolation and has to be balanced with every other contrasting right. It was in this respect, that in this case, an attempt was made by us to reach a solution where the rights of protestors were to be balanced with that of commuters.
17. However, while appreciating the existence of the right to peaceful protest against a legislation (keeping in mind the words of Pulitzer Prize winner, Walter Lippmann, who said “In a democracy, the opposition is not only tolerated as constitutional, but must be maintained because it is indispensable”), we have to make it unequivocally clear that public ways and public spaces cannot be occupied in such a manner and that too indefinitely. Democracy and dissent go hand in hand, but then the demonstrations expressing dissent have to be in designated places alone. The present case was not even one of protests taking place in an undesignated area, but was a blockage of a public way which caused grave inconvenience to commuters. We cannot accept the plea of the applicants that an indeterminable number of people can assemble whenever they choose to protest. Justice K.K. Mathew in the Himat Lal case had eloquently observed that “Streets and public parks exist primarily for other purposes and the social interest See In re Ramlila Maidan Incident, (supra) promoted by untrammeled exercise of freedom of utterance and assembly in public street must yield to social interest which prohibition and regulation of speech are designed to protect. But there is a constitutional difference between reasonable regulation and arbitrary exclusion.”
We have, thus, no hesitation in concluding that such kind of occupation of public ways, whether at the site in question or anywhere else for protests is not acceptable and the administration ought to take action to keep the areas clear of encroachments or obstructions.