RIGHT TO ASSEMBLY

  • The Andhra Pradesh High Court has set aside the state governemnt order that sought to regulate public gatherings or ‘assembly on roads, roadside and margins.
  • The court in its order noticed that historically, culturally and politically, the tradition of public meetings, processions, assembly etc. on streets, highways etc. has been recognized in this country and it is an important facet of political life in India.
    What is the government order and why was it issued?
  • The Andhra Government in January issued directions under the provisions of the Police Act, 1861, to regulate public meetings or “assembly on roads, roadsides and margins”.
  • The Andhra Pradesh government contended before the court that it had decided to “regulate” the conduct of meetings in light of certain fatal accidents that occurred in the recent past.
  • The state government relied on Sections 30, 30A, and 31 of the Police Act, 1861, to issue directions.

What was the Observation of the Court?

  • The court observed that Police Act only gives authorities the power to “regulate” the conduct of assemblies, processions, etc., on public roads or thoroughfares.
  • The requirement of obtaining a license is to be preceded by the formation of an opinion of the officer that there may be a breach of peace, etc.
  • The court noted that the net effect of the state government order was to impose a ban on all meetings on public highways, state highways, municipal and panchayat roads, etc.
  • The court reasoned that the fact that an accident or incident occurred at a particular place cannot be used as an “objective” or “cause” to curtail the right to assemble, to take out processions, etc.
  • The right to assemble, to protest peacefully, and to express one’s opinion freely” is too precious a freedom to be taken away by an “ipse dixit” (unproven assertion) given by the officer of the state.
  • The Court said that such a right can only be subject to a ‘reasonable restriction’ while placing reliance on the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in ‘Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan v Union of India and Another’, which laid down guidelines for peaceful assembly.

SOURCE: THE HINDU, THE ECONOMIC TIMES, PIB

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