The Madras High Court recently held that the Fundamental Right to hold public meetings cannot be denied merely on the apprehension of a law and order situation arising.
“Since it is the fundamental right of the petitioner to conduct such a meeting, if at all, the respondent is of the view that they intend to instigate people and thereby create law and order problem, it was always open to them to permit the petitioner to conduct the meeting by imposing conditions,” Justice M.S. Ramesh observed.
The Court was hearing a Petition filed by an organization called Arappor Iyakkam, challenging an order passed by the Assistant Commissioner of Police, wherein they had been denied permission to conduct a public meeting aimed at protesting against the corruption in the State.
In response to their request, the ACP had served them with a show-cause notice. The organization had then responded with a detailed explanation establishing their right to freedom of speech and expression and to assemble peacefully. Their reply was, however, not considered in time, forcing them to approach the High Court.
On a perusal of the impugned order, the Court noted that the permission was denied on the ground that there were chances of a “law and order problem” emerging out of the meeting.
The Court, however, did not agree with this reasoning and observed, “I do not endorse the reasoning of the respondents for rejecting the petitioner's request for the simple reason that the police department has been created only for the purpose of tackling the above problems…
… There is no quarrel with the above said legal propositions. It is no doubt that the petitioner has a right to peacefully assemble without arms and conduct a public meeting to propagate their principles. Likewise, the respondent being the authority to ensure that no untoward incident happen during the course of meeting, is also empowered to regulate the conduct of the meeting.”
It further observed that if the authorities had such an apprehension, “adequate protection can be extended during the course of the meeting to ensure that such incidents are thwarted”. Besides, it also opined that in such a situation, permission can be granted after imposing reasonable restrictions.
Justice Ramesh, however, warned against such restrictions being arbitrary and observed, “At this juncture, it would be appropriate to point out that the restrictions should be reasonable, what is meant is that the same should not be arbitrary and take away the freedom of speech over the issue of corruption, which issue is intended to be propagated in the meeting.”
The Court, thereafter, permitted the Petitioner-organization to approach the DCP for permission to hold the public meeting, while directing the DCP to impose reasonable restrictions, if necessary.