The Tripura High Court has observed that once a National Highway is blocked in the form of an assembly, it amounts to violation of Section 8B of the National Highway Act, 1956 (Act) and therefore, no claim of immunity under Article 19(1)(a)(b) of the Constitution of India can be made as the fundamental right is granted by way of reasonable restrictions.

The Bench of Acting Chief Justice TA Goud and Justice Arindham Lodh observed that “In view of the said restrictions, Section 8B of the National Highway Act comes into play. Whether any violence has taken place and whether it was an unlawful assembly is immaterial but once the National Highway itself has been blocked by the petitioners it amounts to a clear violation of Section 8B of the National Highway Act and the petitioners cannot claim immunity under Article 19(1)(a)(b) of the Constitution of India.”

In this case, the petitioners had protested the killing of a fire fighter allegedly by some political groups, by first calling a bandh and then they had assembled on the National Highway to protest and subsequently had blocked the Highway.

The Police, thereafter, registered several FIRs under Sections 34, 143, 145, 149, 151, 157, 186, 188, 269, 270, 283, 341, 353, 436, 506 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) read with Section 8-B of the National Highway Act, 1956 (Act) and also under various sections of Disaster Management Act 2005, Epidemic Diseases Act 1987 as it was peak COVID-19 period and under Tripura Police Act, 2007 and Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984.

Against this FIR and the consequent criminal proceedings by the State, Writ Petition had been preferred by the petitioners.

Advocate Manish Goswami appeared for the petitioner and Senior Advocate S. Kar Bhowmik appeared for the respondent.

The Counsel for the petitioners contended that under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and under Section 1 and 2 of the Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, they had the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

On the other hand, the Counsel for the respondent contended that by exercising of their fundamental rights during COVID-19 period by blocking National Highway was a gross violation of Section 8B of National Highway Act as it caused hardship to Ambulance, Public, daily need supplies etc.

The Court said that the unlawful assembly and agitation had taken place at National Highway-08 and Section 8-B of the Act specifically prohibited such blocking of national highways and observed that “the action of the petitioners in the manner in which they have blocked the National Highway cannot be appreciated.”

Further, the Court noted that no document was placed before the Court to show that the petitioners had approached any competent authority and had sought permission to exercise their fundamental right under Article 19 by identifying the place, time, and date for their assembly.

“In absentia, any assembly in contravention to Section 8B of the National Highway Act and also unlawful assembly at any public place, this Court feels that it is a gross violation of Article (19)(1)(a)(b) and misconceiving the fundamental rights.” observed the Court.

Accordingly, the writ petition was dismissed.

Cause Title- Tripura People’s Front & Ors. V. The State of Tripura & Anr.

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