28 Nov 2023 4:08 PM GMT
The Madras High Court recently underlined that right to protect peacefully without arms was guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution and was an integral part of a democratic country like India. The court added that right to protest was an integral part of speech and inherent facet of right to live guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. Justice L Victoria Gowri also...
The Madras High Court recently underlined that right to protect peacefully without arms was guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution and was an integral part of a democratic country like India. The court added that right to protest was an integral part of speech and inherent facet of right to live guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.
Justice L Victoria Gowri also noted that when attempts was made to constrain legitimate dissent arbitrarily, which in turn scuttled the democratic values guaranteed by the Constitution, it had to be dealt with iron hands.
“To be more specific Article 19(1)(b) confers right to the petitioners to assemble and protest peacefully without arms and such a right is the significant feature of a democratic country likewise ours. Constraining the space for legitimate dissent arbitrarily by suspending the petitioners and issuing them with charge memos under Rule 17(b) of Tamil Nadu Civil Service (Discipline and Appeal) Rules, scuttling down the democratic value system guaranteed by our Constitution has to be undermined with iron hands. The right to protest is an inherent part of speech and inherent facet of right to live guaranteed under Article 21 of our Constitution,” the court observed.
In the present case, the court was dealing with a batch of pleas challenging the charge memos issued by the District Educational Officer under Section 17(b) of the Tamil Nadu Civil Services (Discipline and Appeal) Rules, 1955. The charge memo was issued alleging that the teachers had gathered in front of the campus of Government Boys Higher Secondary School and underwent waiting agitation by taking casual leave and thereby caused disturbance to the Government servants, criticising their acts thus conducting misconduct.
The petitioners argued that the charge memo was issued without application of mind. It was contended that the petitioners, being members of the Teachers Federation, had agitated against the irregularities committed by the respondent authorities while finalising the seniority list by including ineligible persons. It was also argued that the petitioners had neither demanded/collected illegal gratification nor had caused dereliction of duty, insubordination or had allegations involving moral turpitude. Thus, it was contended that the action was illegal, arbitrary and violative of Article 14 and 16 of the Constitution.
On behalf of the respondent authorities, it was argued that the petitioners were involved in agitation by instigating other teachers, while students were preparing for 12th standard examinations and when revision examination of 11th Standard was going on. It was also submitted that the petitioners used loud speakers causing disturbance to the students of the school and had caused law and order problem in Trichy Highway using unparliamentary and filthy words against the Officers of Education Department.
The court observed that the charge memos were issued without scrupulously following the guidelines. The court also observed that though the authorities claimed that the agitation had resulted in law and order problem, no police intervention had taken place nor any criminal complaint was filed against the petitioners for their illegal actions. Thus, the court was not in support of that contention.
The court further observed that holding peaceful demonstrations against the illegal exercise of power by the department was the fundamental right of the petitioners. The court added that the petitioners’ right to protest as members of the Teachers Federation was an unrestricted right guaranteed under the constitution.
“Since dialogue, dissent and deliberation are imperative in a democracy, the right to demonstrate by the petitioners, on behalf of the Teachers Federation against the arbitrary exercise of power by the respondents for suspending one of the members of Teachers Federation is protected under Article 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(b) of Constitution of India,” the court observed.
The court also noted that the department had initially suspended the teachers and had later reinstated them following state wide protests. The court added that the Department ought not to have issued the charge memo to the petitioners after this. The court added that the allegations in the charge memo was without application of mind and not covered by the guidelines framed by the State Government.
Thus, the court quashed the proceedings against the teachers.
Counsel for the Petitioner: Mr.T.Pon Ramkumar
Counsel for the Respondent: Mr n Ramesh Arumugan, Government Advocate
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Mad) 371
Case Title: J Jayaraj and Others v The Chief Educational Officer
Case No: W.P.(MD)Nos.13409 to 13415 of 2022