3 Aug 2023 1:38 PM GMT
In a notable judgment, the Madras High Court observed that while right to vote is only a statutory right, the right to seek vote is a fundamental right as democracy is a basic feature of the Constitution. The court thus observed that any person who was causing disturbance to the conduct of rallies, meetings etc for seeking votes, was committing an electoral offence. “Right to vote...
In a notable judgment, the Madras High Court observed that while right to vote is only a statutory right, the right to seek vote is a fundamental right as democracy is a basic feature of the Constitution. The court thus observed that any person who was causing disturbance to the conduct of rallies, meetings etc for seeking votes, was committing an electoral offence.
“Right to vote may only be a statutory right. But right to seek votes is a fundamental right. Because democracy is a basic feature of the Constitution. One can seek votes in a variety of ways. Parties and candidates hold rallies and meetings. If anyone causes disturbance, it is an electoral offence,” the court observed.
Justice GR Swaminathan was hearing a plea filed by one Habeeb Mohammed seeking compensation of Rs. 15,00,000 each from the Home Secretary, Director General of Police, Superintendent of Police, and the District Collector, Thanjavur.
Mohammed had contended that while campaigning for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, one Karuppu @ Muruganantham, who was campaigning for BJP, entered his village along with supporters and indulged in physical violence causing damage to the mechanized boats belonging to Mohammed and others. Mohammed had moved the present petition since his earlier representation seeking damages from the State and seeking Judicial Enquiry was not considered. He contended that since the violence took place due to the failure of State Machinery and the District administration, they were to compensate.
The court, after going through the submissions, observed that the violence was triggered by persons to prevent Karuppu @ Muruganantham from entering the village for an election campaign. The court also noted the recent Vadivelu-movie Maamannan where his character was prevented from entering the village for seeking votes.
"Vadivelu, the iconic Tamil comedian, plays the role of an MLA in the film “Maamannan”. He is contesting for re-election. His adversary has a different game plan. Vadivelu is unable to canvass. He is being prevented from even entering villages and localities. Fortunately, technology comes to his rescue. He reaches out to the voters through social media", the judgment stated in the introduction.
Right to Campaign
Calling the action of preventing Karuppu @ Muruganantham from campaigning "anti-democratic", the court observed that the law which is applicable to election meetings would also apply to electoral campaigns. The court held that the right to campaign was directly traceable to Article 19(1) (a), (b) and (d) of the Constitution and is derivable from the right to freedom of speech and expression, right to assemble peacefully and to move freely throughout the country.
“Candidates/party cadre are entitled to engage in door to door campaigning. They can go to any locality or area for the purpose of peacefully canvassing for votes. No individual has the right to prevent or restrict the exercise of the said right. The right to campaign is traceable directly to Article 19(1)(a), (b) and (d) of the Constitution of India. This right is derivable from the right to freedom of speech and expression, the right to assemble peaceably and without arms and the right to freely move throughout the territory of India,” the court said.
The court also observed that without elections, there was no democracy and without free and effective campaigning, the elections would be rendered useless. Thus, the court opined that the State was under a constitutional obligation to ensure that the right to campaign is upheld at all cost and any person restraining party cadres from exercising this right must be dealt with effectively.
“Without elections, there is no democracy. Unless there is free and effective campaigning, elections will be rendered a farce. The State is under a constitutional obligation to ensure that this right is upheld at all costs and under any circumstance. The persons who attempt to restrain candidates and party cadre from exercising this right shall be dealt with an iron hand,” the court said.
With respect to the claim for compensation, the court said that the same had to be decided on factual aspects which the High Court could not go into. Noting that FIRs were charge-sheeted and the cases were pending trial, the court granted liberty to Mohammed to seek compensation before the trial court at the conclusion of the trial as the criminal court was competent to award compensation under Section 357 of CrPC.
Case Title: Habeeb Mohamed v. The Home Secretary and Others
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Mad) 217
Counsel for the Petitioner: Mr.C.M.Arumugam
Counsel for the Respondents: Mr.S.RA.Ramachandran Addl. Government Pleader, Mr.A.Anandha Prakash
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