The Calcutta High Court held that a recognized political party has the right to select venues for their meetings, particularly on important occasions such as their foundation day.

The Court allowed the All India Secular Front (ISF) to hold their meeting at the specified venue on their Foundation Day, on January 21, 2024, at a designated time.

The Court noted that the state is obligated to provide substantial justifications if it intends to deny a political party the right to choose its meeting venue.

The Bench of Justice Jay Sengupta observed, “the petitioner no.1 is a recognized political party in the State of West Bengal. It can fairly chose a place for holding a meeting or an assembly, especially on its Foundation Day. Evidently, political meetings had been allowed at the venue and all political outfits are entitled to a level playing field. Therefore, it is for the State to show sufficient reasons for not allowing the same”.

Advocate Firdous Samim appeared for the Petitioner and Advocate General Kishore Dutta appeared for the State.

An application was filed seeking relief against the cancellation, withdrawal, and quashing of a rejection/denial letter issued by the Joint Commissioner of Police. The Petitioners, a registered political party under Section 29A of the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951 (RPA), and the General Secretary of All India Secular Front (ISF), planned to hold a peaceful meeting in front of Victoria House or any adjacent place to celebrate the Foundation Day.

The Petitioners had communicated their meeting plans to authorities, providing details, but were asked to submit a prescribed format application, which they did. Despite compliance, the authorities denied permission, leading the Petitioners to allege bias, asserting the administration's preference for the ruling political party in holding rallies in front of Victoria House.

The State Attorney argued that the denial of the permission was justified, pointing out the specific reasons mentioned in the response, including the importance of the ruling political party's annual meeting to honour individuals who sacrificed their lives during an agitation. The State pointed out a past incident during the petitioners' Foundation Day celebration, where supporters had engaged in disruptive behaviour, leading to FIRs and charge sheets.

The Court referred to the Apex Court Judgment in the case of Amit Sahni (Shaheen Bagh, In Re) v Commissioner of Police and others, [(2020) 10 SCC 439]. The Court reaffirmed the principle that the right to assembly is subject to reasonable restrictions, and no one has the right to occupy a specific place indefinitely.

However, the Court clarified that this principle does not impede the granting of permission for this meeting. On the contrary, it supports the right to conduct a peaceful assembly, provided it is subject to reasonable restrictions.

The Bench observed that the Petitioner, a recognized political party in West Bengal, has the right to choose a venue for its meeting, particularly on its Foundation Day. Political meetings have historically been allowed at the location, and all political entities are entitled to an equitable opportunity.

Therefore, the Bench emphasized that the burden lies with the State to provide sufficient reasons for the denial.

The Court observed that the meetings of another political party and an assembly by a different group are planned at a considerable distance from the intended location. Regarding the car rally, the Cout noted that it is scheduled to start at 9 AM and last for two hours, allowing for a substantial gap between the events on the same day.

The Court also emphasized that a more compelling reason is required to justify the denial of permission for the meeting, especially when the request was made well in advance. The unresolved issues of disturbances in the previous year's meeting are pending decision, and the responsibility for such acts is not within the purview of this Court.

The Court emphasized that the grounds of earlier violence become insignificant when the State provides alternative venues. With necessary assurances, undertakings, and the identification of specific individuals responsible for the rally, ensuring a peaceful assembly should pose no difficulty.

Therefore, the Court found no justifiable reason for the State/respondents to withhold permission for the petitioners to hold their meeting at the specified venue on their Foundation Day, on January 21, 2024, at a designated time.

The Court issued the following directions:

(a) The petitioners shall be permitted to hold a meeting on their Foundation Day i.e., on 21.01.2024 in front of Victoria House between 2:30 PM and 4:30 PM.

(b) The number of participants shall be restricted to 1000 only and the stage to be built should not exceed a size of 20ft. /20ft. and an appropriate height.

(c) The number of vehicles including buses required to be used/parked shall not exceed 15 in number.

(d) The petitioners shall specify four individuals who shall be held responsible for conducting the meeting.

(e) For abundant caution, a clear passage on the other side of the road shall be left open for vehicles to ply including cars that might get late while participating in the car rally.

(f) If any prior arrangement is to be made for setting up the stage and the like, the same shall not be done between 9 AM and 1 PM on the said date.

(g) The participants in the meeting shall not use foul language and shall not incite violence.

(h) All relevant laws including the norms regarding sound restrictions shall be maintained, especially if loudspeakers are used.

(i) The entire programme shall be videographed by the petitioners.

(j) The respondent authorities shall deploy adequate number of police personnel and shall render adequate assistance and ensure the safety and security of the participants as well as the passersby. They shall also videograph the entire event”.

Accordingly, the Court disposed of the Petition.

Cause Title: All India Secular Front (ISF) & anr v The State of West Bengal & Ors.


Petitioner: Gopa Biswas, Payel Shome, Sampriti Saha, Purba Mukherjee, Mohona Das and Abhijeet Kar, Advocates.

Respondent: Amitesh Banerjee, Ipsita Banerjee and Suddhadev Adak, Advocates.

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