Andhra HC strikes Down govt order imposing curbs on meetings

The Andhra Pradesh High Court on Friday set aside an order of the state government imposing curbs on public meetings on roads in the state.

Hearing a batch of petitions filed by the leaders of various opposition parties, the High Court struck down the order. It observed that the government order may be detrimental to fundamental rights.

A division bench of Chief Justice Prashant Kumar Mishra and Justice DVS Somayajulu, which had reserved the orders on January 24, pronounced the same on Friday.

The Government Order (GO) number one was issued on January 2, 2023 banning public meetings on roads and roadsides, citing public safety.

CPI state secretary Ramakrishna had filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) challenging the GO. He alleged that the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) government issued the GO to muzzle the voice of the opposition. He argued that such types of restrictions were not imposed even during British rule.

The High Court on January 12 had issued an interim order suspending the GO till January 23. It observed that the GO is prima facie in violation of Section 30 of the Police Act.

The state government, however, had moved the Supreme Court challenging the stay order passed by the vacation bench. It argued that the vacation bench cannot take up PIL for hearing.

The government clarified that the GO does not prohibit any public gathering but only regulates such meetings by making prior permission mandatory keeping in view the recent stampede incidents.

On April 24, the Supreme Court directed the division bench of Andhra Pradesh High Court to expedite the hearing related to GO. Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud had suggested that the High Court deliver the final verdict at the earliest.

Former minister and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) politburo member Kollu Ravindra, Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee president G. Veera Venkata Rudraraju, former minister Kanna Lakshminarayana, AISF general secretary Shiva Reddy, AIYF state president Rajendra Babu and others had also filed petitions in the High Court challenging the GO.

The GO was issued in the wake of a stampede during a roadshow by TDP president and former chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu at Kandukur in Nellore district on December 28, 2022. Eight people including two women had died in the incident.

The directions were issued under the Police Act, 1861, which regulates conduct of Assembly and processions on public roads and public streets.

The government asked the respective authorities under Section 30 of the Police Act, 1861, while considering any application for conduct of public meetings on public roads and streets, bear in mind the possibility of recurrence of the Kandukur incident.

The authorities were told that it is ideal not to give permission for meetings on state and national highways.

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