Chennai: Setting aside the single judge order granting permission to a farmer leader to hold agitation at Marina beach, Madras high court stated that the beach cannot be used for staging agitations because public order is equally important.
Allowing the appeal filed by the government, the division bench comprising Justices K.K. Sasidharan and R. Subramanian said that “The right to protest, no doubt is available to all the citizens in a democratic country like ours. Unfortunately, this right to protest has been continuously misunderstood as a right to inconvenience the general public. The protesters who claim to espouse the cause of the public often forget that their right to protest ends when the other person’s right to free movement and “right to not to listen to” starts.”
P. Ayyakannu, the leader of National South Indian River Interlinking Agriculturist Association, sought permission to observe fasting struggle for 90 days from April 9, 2018, at Marina beach to espouse the cause of agriculturists in Tamil Nadu and to highlight demand Centre to set up Cauvery Water Management Board despite the final judgment of the Supreme Court directing constitution of the Cauvery Water Management Board.
Apprehending that the government may refuse permission, Ayyakannu approached the high court. On April 28, 2018, a single judge directed the City Police Commissioner to grant permission to Ayyakannu to conduct fasting struggle in Marina beach only for a day. Challenging the order, the state government filed the present appeal.
The government replied that no permission was granted to any organisation including political parties to conduct any demonstration, fast, protest and rally on Marina since 2003. Permission was not granted for holding any form protests either on Kamaraj Salai or on the sands of Marina.
While referring to various Supreme Court verdicts, the bench said “While pointing out that a complete ban would amount to an unreasonable restriction, the Supreme Court had upheld the right on the government to place reasonable restrictions with reference to the time and the place at which such protests or public meetings are to be held.”
Quashing the single judge order, the bench allowed the appeal and said “If we are to examine the present request made by Ayyakannu to conduct a fast for 90 days on the sands of Marina without any restrictions would definitely impinge upon the rights of the public in general. It would have direct bearing on public order. No person, in our considered opinion, has a right to contend that he would protest only at a particular place and not anywhere else. The very fact that the right to protest is acknowledged as a fundamental right under the constitution makes it subject to reasonable restrictions.”
The bench said that the restrictions placed are reasonable and they do not in any manner curtail the freedom guaranteed under Article 19(1)(b) of the Constitution of India. The affidavit filed by the City Police Commissioner Greater Chennai is placed on record and it is made clear that the policy decision taken by the state government not to allow any form of protests or dharnas on the sands of Marina or on the service road or on Kamaraj Salai should be adhered to strictly in future, of course, subject to exceptions like homage to leaders whose samadhis or statues are situate on the Marina, Republic day parade which is being held as a custom on Kamaraj Salai with the Governor of the state unfurling the national flag in front of Gandhi Statue at Marina and to conduct awareness programmes by holding marathon and rallies. It is made clear that the awareness programmes should be permitted only during non-peak hours without any inconvenience to the general public. “We are therefore of the considered opinion that the petitioner/ respondent has no vested right to demand that he would conduct his protest or fast only at place chosen by him and not at the place offered by the authorities.”
Petitioner: Will approach SC against order
“Reacting to the HC verdict Ayyakannu said protesting is included in the rights granted to us by the Constitution. The government and the police can only regulate us and not ban us. The Supreme Court had given us that right in New Delhi. We will approach the Supreme Court challenging the HC verdict.”
Justice Raja rejected government’s petition
Rejecting the government and Chennai police’s stand that protests cannot be held at Marina, Justice Raja on April 28, 2018, said “had the then British Government banned Marina beach from being used for any public meeting, Marina would not have witnessed the presence of Mahatma Gandhi and Thilakar on its sands for the noble cause of Freedom. Therefore, when the then British Government itself did not think of banning the demonstrations on the Marina beach, this court is not inclined to accept the submissions made by the respondent”.