Denying nod to Bhim Army meet suppression of fundamental right, rules Bombay HC

Vivek Deshpande
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The Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court on Thursday questioned the city police’s decision to deny permission to Bhim Army to hold a workers’ meet on February 24 at a ground in front of RSS Smruti Mandir, saying no solid reason has been provided for the same.

Reserving its order for Friday morning, the court maintained that denying permission for the meet amounted to suppression of fundamental right. It also rapped the police saying that they have left it to the court to decide the matter so that later they could say that it was the court that had granted permission to the meet.

Bhim Army founder Chandrashekhar Azad, who is scheduled to address the meet, is likely to address issues like the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

For the February 24 programme, the organisation had secured clearance from the Nagpur Improvement Trust, which owns the ground, as well as from C P and Berar Education Society, which controls it. It has also paid the requisite fee for holding the event. But as the police went on to deny permission citing law and order problems, Bhim Army moved the HC on Tuesday. While hearing the matter, the court issued notices to the Nagpur Police and the state home department seeking their replies by Thursday.

However, Assistant Government Pleader Ketaki Joshi on Thursday couldn’t cite any specific reason for denying nod to the event. As the bench comprising Justice Sunil Shukre and Justice Madhav Jamdar asked if the police had any intelligence input or any Intelligence Bureau report regarding the event, Joshi had no answer. When the court asked on what basis did the police presume that there was a possibility of a law and order situation, Joshi couldn’t answer to the court’s satisfaction.

Lawyer Firdos Mirza, appearing for petitioner Prafulla Shende, the district Bhim Army chief, argued that denial of permission to hold the meet was a violation of Article 19 of the Constitution and the police had no authority to do so.

Mirza also drew the court’s attention to the police affidavit, which stated that permission was being denied since the programme was to be held adjacent to RSS’ Smruti Mandir and could have been allowed at some other place. Mirza argued that the police felt any problem, which is likely to emerge at the proposed venue, will not be from Bhim Army’s side.

“The organisation of the petitioner holds an ideology, which is different and contrary and diverse to the ideology being professed by RSS. The possibility of law and order situation being created at the centre of protest can’t be ruled out,” the police affidavit stated.

However, maintaining that denial of permission would amount to suppression of fundamental right, the court said: “We can impose certain conditions but can’t deny permission.” It, however, asked the petitioner why it needed the ground for seven hours and asked him to complete the programme in three hours. It also warned that if the petitioner did not stick to the deadline, he will be liable for criminal contempt of court.