PUCL Bulletin, June 1981

Know Your Rights
Your Right to Assemble and Demonstrate

A few weeks back the Indo-Afghan Friendship Association was denied permission by the police administration of Bombay to hold a public meeting to condemn the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. The meeting was eventually permitted after an order of the Bombay High Court directing the respondent police administration to permit the meeting.

Over a month ago another organisation was also denied the right to hold a meeting at the Ambedkar Stadium in Delhi by the Delhi Municipal Corporation. But subsequently permission was granted to the Sanjay Gandhi Memorial Wrestling Tournament on the same date and for the same venue. On October 2, 1975, Acharya Kripalani was denied the right to address a prayer meeting at the Rajghat in Delhi. A few weeks later, an advocates' meeting was not permitted by the police administration in Bombay.

In Delhi all processions and protests are now ending up with the police detaining the protesters under Sec 65 of the Delhi Police Act. This provision is being used in all cases where there are no prohibitory articles under Sec 144 of the Cr. P.C. in force.

A citizen's right to organise a meeting, an assembly or a protest demonstration is increasingly being infringed upon. Either a meeting is not permitted or a request for permission to organise a meeting goes unanswered. A protest demonstration is sought to be prevented either by the imposition of prohibitionary orders in the area concerned or the relevant routs are not permitted.

What, therefore, are the rights of a citizen in the circumstances concerned?
The Constitution of India in Article 19(1) (b) guarantees "the right to assemble peaceably without arms". The aforesaid right is subject to reasonable restrictions. These restrictions can be imposed by law when the sovereignty of India or public order are threatened.

Sec 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code permits the State to act when "immediate prevention or speedy remedy" is desirable. But this can be done only after the State has provided all the relevant reasons. No order under this section can remain in force for more then. two months.

Since the State is increasingly misusing its powers under this section, the validity of orders can be challenged on the grounds that no "immediate prevention or speedy remedy" was required. The injury or annoyance which any person is alleged to be contemplating has to be real and substantive. Before such an order is passed against a citizen, he must be heard. The action prohibited under this section must be a tangible one. Since the state governments have generally been reissuing these orders after every two months, various High Courts have held such a renewal as illegal. They have considered it an unreasonable restriction of the Constitutional right to assemble peaceably.

The provisions of various state legislations like the Delhi Police Act, Bombay Police Act, Mysore Police Act, Madras City Police Act, Madhya Bharat Police Act, Travancore-Cochin Police Act are also being used to prevent the holding of meetings and assemblies.

It has been held that the right to hold a meeting or a demonstration involves the Constitutional right of every citizen-of assembly under Article 19(l)(b), of expression under Article 19 (l)(a), and of free movement throughout the territory of India under Article 19 (l)(d).

These rights can be regulated only in specific circumstances and on grounds that are unexceptionable for protecting the sovereignty and integrity of India and maintaining public order. In fact, the Supreme Court (in Himmat Lal vs. Police Commissioner, Ahmedabad) held a section of the Bombay Police Act void as it did not specify the grounds under which the concerned officer could restrict the right of citizens to assemble and move freely.

Similarly refusing meetings on the ground of "public order" must be done carefully. The threat to public order must be distinguished from a threat to "law and order". For a threat to "public order" can arise only when a total collapse of the State machinery is imminent.

To sum up, there can be no complete denial of the citizen's right to hold a meeting or a demonstration. And in every case where a citizen feels that these rights are being denied to him either completely or with restriction he is

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