Right to conduct a public meeting held to be a fundamental right

Madras High Court: The petitioner, an organization involved in social activities for the benefit of general public intending to organize a public meeting to address the issue of corruption in Tamil Nadu, had submitted a request to the Inspector of Police, Mylapore, seeking permission to organize a public meeting in Mylapore on 08.10.2017. On 30.09.2017, the Inspector of Polioce, Mylapore issued a show-cause notice as to why permission could not be granted for conducting the said meeting. When the petitioners challenged the notice owing to their right to freedom of speech and expression and to assemble peacefully, the same was negated. As a result, the petitioners sought for a writ of declaration, declaring that the failure of the respondents to grant permission to conduct the public meeting as illegal and arbitrary.

The Assistant Commissioner of Police, Mylapore rejected the petitioner’s request for permission to conduct such a meeting on the ground that the respondent police had reliable information that the petitioner was trying to instigate people for creating law and order problem under the guise of organizing a meeting. The said rejection order also remarked that by taking advantage of the situation, anti-social elements may also infiltrate into the public and indulge in anti-social activities, creating ruckus.

Justice M.S. Ramesh, stating explicitly that the respondent being the authority to ensure that no untoward incident happen during the course of meeting, is also empowered to regulate the conduct of the meeting, observed: “I do not endorse the reasoning of the respondents for rejecting the petitioner’s request for the simple reason that the police department has been created only for the purpose of tackling the above problems. Since it is the fundamental right of the petitioner to conduct such a meeting, if at all, the respondent is of the view that they intend to instigate people and thereby create law and order problem, it was always open to them to permit the petitioner to conduct the meeting by imposing conditions.”

Granting liberty to the petitioner to approach the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Mylapore, Chennai, seeking for permission to conduct the public meeting, the Court issued directions to the Deputy Commissioner of Police to accord necessary permission to the petitioner for conducting the meeting on the date requested by the petitioner by imposing reasonable restrictions. [Arappor Iyakkam v. State of Tamil Nadu,  2017 SCC OnLine Mad 5785, decided on 5.10.2017]

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