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Supreme Court directs authorities to decide plea for 'Yatras' during polls within 3 days

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for activists Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey, claimed before the court that the Election Commission has prohibited all assemblies, meetings, demonstrations etc till the elections.
shish Tripathi
Last Updated : 19 April 2024, 10:06 IST
Last Updated : 19 April 2024, 10:06 IST

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NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday directed the competent authorities to decide within three days a plea made by any person for permission to hold 'Yatras' during the ongoing general elections.

A bench of Justices B R Gavai and Sandeep Mehta expressed surprise over blanket orders being issued to prohibit any assembly during the polls.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for activists Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey, claimed before the court that the Election Commission has prohibited all assemblies, meetings, demonstrations etc till the elections.

"How can such an order be issued," the bench asked.

Bhushan submitted the Constitution bench judgments previously declared unless there are some well-founded genuine apprehension of breach of peace, an order cannot be issued under Section 144 of the CrPC.

The bench asked Bhushan to reading out one of such notices.

Referring to a notice issued in Barmer, he said, “The order issued by the district magistrate of Barmer says ‘Lok Sabha elections have been announced by ECI, this is dated March 16. As per ECI instructions, Lok Sabha elections should be conducted in a peaceful manner. No person will be able to organise a procession or public meeting without prior permission of the concerned returning officer but this restriction is not applied to marriage ceremonies and funeral processions".

Bhushan said petitioners applied for permission for taking out a democracy yatra/public meeting to educate voters in the constituencies to exercise their democratic rights etc.

"Last time in the Assembly Election held in November and December, we asked the same permission and the permission was not given to us. Now again, no permission has been given. Within 48 hours, they should at least decide the application for permission," Bhushan said.

He said the court should pass an order, applicable to the entire country.

“We direct, by an interim order, that if any application is made by any person to the competent authorities, the same shall be decided within three days of such an application. List this after two weeks," the court said.

In their plea, social workers Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey asked the court, to restrain the indiscriminate practice of magistrates and state governments to pass blanket orders under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 to prohibit any and all meetings, gatherings, processions, or dharnas ahead of every Lok Sabha or Vidhan Sabha elections and until the declaration of results.

The plea contended that these blanket orders directly affected civil society and the general public from freely discussing, participating, organizing, or mobilising on issues affecting them ahead of elections.

"The conduct of elections – being the ostensible reason for invoking Section 144 - is neither a valid ground recognised under Section 144, nor an emergent situation to justify imposition of sweeping prohibitory orders. Section 144 orders – of the kind impugned herein – have been passed mechanically, without any material or exigency to justify prohibition on the general public, and amounts to an illegal interference with the right to vote," the plea contended.

The petitioners said as part of ‘Rajasthan Election Watch’, they have been monitoring elections in Rajasthan since 2003-04 by extracting information from the affidavits of candidates and delivering it to the citizens and creating awareness among the citizens to send complaints related to violation of code of conduct to the Election Commission.

"Along with this, efforts are being made to monitor communal and hate-motivated messages and convey them to the police administration. They have faced issues in basic mobilization activities such as jeep- yatras or street corner meetings during the Rajasthan elections of 2023, and they continue experiencing similar issues as part of Rajasthan Election Watch during the 2024 national elections- they have to repeatedly obtain permission from the Magistrate and Police. This requirement for permissions have been necessitated by the issuance of blanket prohibitory orders passed under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973," the plea said.

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Published 19 April 2024, 10:06 IST

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