The Madras High Court set aside an order passed by the Superintendent of Police Trichy (Rural) which denied permission for a public protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, reported Live Law.
However, Justice GR Swaminathan, who passed the order, did not grant the petitioners permission to hold the protest in the wake of the prohibitory orders issued by the government in light of the Coronavirus pandemic.
“Even while setting aside the impugned order, I am not in a position to direct the first respondent to permit holding of the petition mentioned event on 20.3.2020. The jurisdictional Deputy Superintendent of Police shall issue proceedings permitting holding of the event at the petition mentioned site immediately after the ban issued by the government in the wake of Novel Coronavirus outbreak pandemic is lifted,” Justice Swaminathan ordered while allowing a petition filed by Sunnathaval Jamath Jumma Periya Pallivasal.
The petitioner Jamal Mohamed is the President of the administrative committee of the Sunnathaval Jamath Jumma Periya Pallivasal. He had sought permission to hold a public meeting on March 20, 2020 starting 5 PM at Kadaiveethi, Enamkulathur, Trichy, to protest against the CAA-NPR-NRC.
Addressing the police, Justice Swaminathan disagreed with its decision to cancel the protest on grounds of possible disturbance to law and order and inconvenience to public and traffic. Saying that he had observed that the police was invariably denying permissions for protests, he quoted a lecture delivered by Justice DY Chandrachud which said, “A state committed to the rule of law ensures that the State apparatus is not employed to curb legitimate and peaceful protest but to create spaces conducive for deliberation… The blanket labelling of such dissent as ‘anti-national’ or ‘anti-democratic’ strikes at the heart of our commitment to the protection of constitutional values.”
Justice Swaminathan said he quoted from the lecture because he had observed similar incidents and it wasn’t that it was just the officials alone who were discouraging and putting down dissent. He said, “Recently, in the 43rd book fair organized by The Book Sellers’ and Publishers’ Association of South India (BAPASI) in Chennai early this year, a publisher was evicted from his rental stall. The eviction notice read that the action was on account of the allottee selling a book against the government. (The Hindu dated 13.01.2020).”
Adding to say that it was okay to prohibit the sales of banned and pirated was understandable, he mentioned that it was absurd to not add books that were critical of the government. He also said that he wasn’t aware of such a book allotment condition at the fair, but if there was, it was unconstitutional.
Saying that the right to hold public meetings is traceable to Article 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(b) of the Constitution of India and guarantee to all citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression and to assemble peaceably and without arms, he referred to a judgement reported in 1973 1 SCC 277 (Himat Lal K.Shah V. Commissioner of Police) by the Constitution bench of the Supreme Court which held that “the right to hold public meetings flowed from Article 19(1)(b) and that the state cannot impose unreasonable restrictions. It was also observed that public streets are the natural places for expression of opinions and dissemination of ideas.”
In conclusion he said, “When it comes to upholding fundamental rights, it is the duty of the local administration to a stand in aid of the same. If any law and order problem arises, the same must be dealt with appropriately. The police should not choose the easy option of stifling the fundamental rights.”
The complete order by the Madras High Court may be read below.