The Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court has refused to grant permission to Bharat Mukti Morcha for holding a meeting or rally at Bezanbag ground, near the headquarters of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in Nagpur on October 6, 2022.

While dismissing the Petition challenging refusal of permission by the administration, the Division Bench of Justice Sunil B. Shukre and Justice G.A. Sanap observed that there is an imminent danger to social order and public tranquillity of the large area around the ground in question i.e., Bezanbag ground on October 6, 2022.

Senior Counsel Sunil Manohar appearing for the State had argued that the Bezanbag area being close to the RSS headquarters is a sensitive and high-security area and that the intention behind such a rally was clear from the social media handles of Bharat Mukti Morcha.

However, as per news reports, the group went ahead with its rally and the police had to barricade the area and impose restrictions under Section 144 of CrPC.

The Court held, "Then, there is also material available on record, a reference to which has been generally made in the impugned order, showing that if the public meeting is allowed to be held on the particular day of 6.10.2022, the day on which devotees would throng Dikshabhoomi in lakhs, there would be imminent danger to social order and public tranquillity of large area around the ground in question. This danger, as seen from the material on record, is clear and present, has a proximate relation with object sought to be achieved by the refusal order and, therefore, we find nothing amiss in the impugned order when it rejects the permission to hold a public meeting on the particular day of 6.10.2022 at Bezanbag ground."

The Court also held that the refusal to hold a public meeting that came from the impugned order was restricted to only October 6, 2022 and such a restriction was not unreasonable apart from it having been imposed under the authority of law emanating from Section 37(3) of the Police Act.

The Bench further also stressed upon the fact that the gathering of the Petitioner could be of any size from 2000 to 50000 persons in own words of the Petitioner and thus noted –

"The above conclusions are fortified from the fact that at the place in question, the gathering could of any size from 2000 to 50000 persons in own words of the petitioners and if the gathering is really to swell to its maximum projected number, one can imagine the amount of strain and stress that would be exerted on the police force pushing it to a breakup point."

Petitioner No. 1 Bharat Mukti Morcha claimed to be a social organization espousing the cause of socially and economically backward classes of citizens of India.

Petitioner No. 1 had decided to hold a giant rally described in Hindi as 'Vishal Maharally' of persons belonging to such categories as Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes and religion converts. Accordingly, an application was made on September 13, 2022, to Respondent No. 3, however, the permission was refused on September 28, 2022.

The Court had previously heard the matter on October 3, 2022, and had directed the Petitioner to make a fresh application to Respondent No. 3 for consideration to grant permission to hold only a public meeting, however, the application was rejected by Respondent No. 4. Aggrieved, the Petitioner approached the High Court.

Counsel Firdos Mirza appeared for the Petitioners before the Court.

Counsel appearing for the Petitioners argued that to hold a public meeting in a peaceful manner and without arms is a fundamental right guaranteed to every citizen of India under Article 19(1)(b) of the Constitution of India and the right cannot be restricted or curtailed except on the grounds stated in Article 19(3) of the Constitution.

Senior Counsel appearing for the State contended before the Court that even though right to hold a public meeting at a place like the Bezanbag ground is a fundamental right, the right cannot be exercised in an unbridled manner especially when the police authorities in-charge of maintenance of public peace and law and order are satisfied that the public meeting cannot be held on the proposed day except at the cost of disturbance of public peace and law and order.

The Court noted, "It may thus be seen that when it is stated that right to assemble peaceably without arms is a fundamental right and can be exercised as such by all citizens of India, it must be asserted in a manner that it does not interfere with the fundamental right of others. It must also be exercised with an obligation to maintain public peace at all cost, a duty which is inherent in the nature of fundamental right under Article 19 of the Constitution."

Further, the Bench also held that the right must be exercised in a way that it does not lead to breach of harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood among all the citizens of India. Exercise of this right must not endanger societal peace and must be done while abjuring violence.

The Court also held, "Exercise of fundamental right under Article 19 with consciousness about the fundamental duty to shun violence and to endear public peace has been considered necessary for maintenance of social order which only can promote welfare of the people, an object the State has to achieve in its governance of the nation in terms of the Directive Principles of State Policy prescribed in Part IV of the Constitution."

The Bench additionally observed that the right to hold a public meeting under Article 19(1)(b) of the Constitution can be restricted or curtailed on the ground of maintenance of law and order but on the ground of preservation of public peace.

While referring to the contention of the Petitioner that no rule had been framed to obtain prior permission to hold a public meeting under Section 33 of the Police Act, the Court held that the said provision was not applicable to the case.

"…we find that there is indeed an authority vested in the Commissioner and the District Magistrate to prohibit any assembly or procession for the purpose of preservation of the public order and we further find that whenever there is a power of prohibition, there is also a need to seek prior permission to hold an assembly, lest there be a danger of the assembly being prohibited at the eleventh hour or in its midst," the Court held.

The Court noted that the impugned order suggested that the Petitioners can hold their public meeting at Bezanbag ground either on October 7 or October 8 or October 10, 2022, or any date thereafter and thus held –

"This readiness on the part of the police further supports our view that refusal of the police to hold a public meeting on the particular day of 6.10.2022 cannot be said to be arbitrary and against the well settled principles of law."

Accordingly, the Court dismissed the Petition.

Cause Title – Bharat Mukti Morcha & Ors. v. The State of Maharashtra & Ors.

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