The recent judgment by Calcutta High Court with respect to the blocking of roads for political procession is a commendable verdict. The Honourable Court decided the matter on May 8, 2018. The Court had clubbed two writ petitions filed by two different petitioners. The first petition one was filed by Rituparna Sarkar Dutta bearing the number “WP 568 of 2015”. She pleaded the Court to issue a writ of mandamus to the respondent authorities (the municipalities etc.) to not grant permission to a political party or any authority to block the roads completely to carry out a rally or procession and to organise an assembly or meeting.
The second petition bearing WP No. 1130 of 2015 filed by Human Rights Protection for Common People and other parties, praying before the Court to not give permission for carrying out rally, procession etc. during the working days in the vicinity of Calcutta as the same paralyses the free movement of traffic.
The petitioners further submitted that holding of rallies, processions etc. impedes not only the movement of normal traffic but also the movement of the emergency service providers like ambulances, fire brigades etc.
Blocking of Roads Curtails Right to Free Movement
The complete blocking of roads happens due to the permission is given by the executive authorities on the eve of rallies and processions being held without ensuring the normal traffic movement. This causes immense trouble to normal public life particularly in case of emergency. The petitioners emphasized on the fundamental right to movement and right to livelihood by doing business or going to work. The State authorities are duty bound to ensure the smooth running of the traffic when the rallies, processions are being held.
Ensuring Proper Traffic Management
The Respondents submitted that after getting the prior information from the political parties about the rallies, meetings etc., the job of the police is to ensure proper traffic management and crowd control. Several police personnel including the lady personnel) are deployed for the safety of the public. CCTV cameras are installed at various places to ensure coordination among the police officers. Alternative traffic plans are made keeping in consideration the interests of several stakeholders. They further submitted that as most of the region of Kolkata is densely populated, it is very difficult to control the traffic but they try their best to ensure normalcy. The representative of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) submitted that it is their fundamental right to hold processions, meetings etc. in a peaceful manner to address the grievances of the public.
Judgement in Favour of Holding Peaceful Rally without Causing Inconvenience
The bench comprising of the Hon’ble the Chief Justice Jyotirmay Bhattacharya and the Hon’ble Justice Arijit Banerjee, after considering the contentions of both the parties, focussed on Article 19(1)(b) of the Constitution of India. This article guarantees the meeting of people in any number to conduct assembly in a peaceful manner. But there is no fundamental right to hold meetings on private property or government property even where the government is the employer. The above right is also subjected to the restrictions given in Article 19(3) i.e. public order, sovereignty or integrity of India etc. The Court emphasized on Section 144 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 which gives District Magistrate or Executive Magistrate to the making of temporary orders of the prohibition of meetings or processions to prevent an imminent breach of peace. The right to hold public meetings and processions follow from the right to hold the assembly. The Court stated: “The administration must ensure that a balance is struck between the fundamental right of a political party or for that matter any group of persons to hold peaceful assembly/rally/procession and the right of the public, in general, to carry on with normal life and activities.”
The Court did not pass any direction as to whether the rallies, meetings etc. should be held on public holidays only. It left the same to the wisdom of the executive authorities to decide as to whether to permit the above on a particular day or not. Lastly, the Court gave the direction stating: “a reasonable part of every road/street must be kept free of blockage and open to pedestrians and motor traffic. This is absolutely imperative keeping in mind the importance of essential and emergency services like ambulances, fire brigades etc.”
According to the author, the judges have given a thoughtful judgment by balancing the rights of the public and the political parties or other authorities. It did not negate the service rendered by the police personnel to control the traffic. As the law gives the power to the executive authorities to allow the holding of the meetings, processions etc., the Court did not interfere with the same. This judgment can help the Courts of other States to give directions with respect to the holding of processions, meetings etc.