Rallying against an order

Published : Oct 24, 2003 00:00 IST

The Calcutta High Court's order imposing restrictions on rallies and processions in Kolkata evokes all-round opposition.

DESPITE their differences, the main political parties in West Bengal are unanimous in their condemnation of the Calcutta High Court order banning all rallies and processions in the city on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Barring Sundays and public holidays, the order states, rallies and processions can take place only outside the 12 hours mentioned. Issued by Justice Amitava Lala on September 29, the order further states that even on holidays rallies and processions cannot block traffic in any way. Organisers of a rally will have to make a security deposit with the traffic police, which might be used to compensate those inconvenienced by the rally; for instance, those delayed on their way to hospital, or those who have missed their flight or train. If a rally is planned on a holiday, it will have to be restricted to three venues specified - the Brigade Parade Ground, Rani Rasmoni Road and Sahid Minar.

The Central Committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), in a press statement issued soon after the Court order came out, has called it an infringement on the democratic rights of citizens. "The fundamental right to assemble and to express their views have been provided in the the Constitution for all citizens. The authorities can provide for reasonable restrictions and regulations but there can be no outright ban on demonstrations and rallies. The Central Committee deplores this form of judicial intervention and asserts that the democratic rights of citizens cannot be curbed."

Justice Amitava Lala's order was passed on a suo motu contempt notice against the Kolkata Police, after he was caught for over one and half hours in a traffic snarl on his way to work on September 24. The jam was caused by a huge rally by tribal communities, which was allowed by the police. All traffic in the area came to a standstill. Admonishing traffic police officials, including Deputy Commissioner (Traffic) M.K. Singh, Justice Lala said: "The Court can no longer be a silent spectator to the disorder and chaos in the city."

On October 1, the West Bengal government moved a two-member Division Bench of the Calcutta High Court seeking a stay on the order. On October 2, the Bench comprising Justices Alok Chakraborti and Subro Kamal Mukherjee refused to stay it. The vacation Bench directed that the State government's appeal against the order would be heard by a regular Bench after the Puja holidays. It declined to proceed with the appeal on that day as the signed copy of Justice Lala's order was not yet available.

Advocate-General Balai Roy, appearing for the State government, argued that Justice Lala's order did not take into account Article 19 (1) (b) of the Constitution, which states the fundamental right of all citizens to assemble peacefully and without arms. He also said that under the Constitution, "It is only the state that could frame a law for imposing reasonable restriction on the exercise of the said right only in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity of the country or for public order."

In the meantime, in case of any emergency, the Bench has given liberty to the State to move the vacation court again. The Bench, however, allowed immersion processions of Durga Puja, Kali Puja and Laxmi Puja. CPI(M) Politburo member Prakash Karat is reported to have said: "We will go on appealing till there is a reversal of the High Court Order."

West Bengal Pradesh Congress president Pranab Mukherjee told Frontline: "How can such an order be enforced? The Congress is totally against this order, as it goes against the fundamental rights as stated in Article 19 of the Constitution. The State government is directly concerned with the Order, as it is the State government which will have to implement it. I have spoken to representatives of the State government and have asked them to appeal against the Order. I have asked my legal cell to look into what can be done about this." Mukherjee is also not one to conform with the theory that political rallies and processions are instrumental for the traffic jams Kolkata is notorious for. "Rallies and processions are not the only reasons for jams. What happens every time when there is a football or a cricket match?"

The Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI) came down heavily on the order, stating that it is against the fundamental rights of the people and is unheard of anywhere in the world. SUCI leader Provas Ghosh told Frontline: "We are going to oppose this order, and if necessary even break the law in doing so." The organisation is also planning a meeting of all political parties and mass organisations, except the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on October 10, to discuss the issue.

Subrata Mukherjee, Mayor of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation and leader of the Trinamul Congress, described the order as "most undemocratic" and an infringement on the fundamental rights of the people. How can anyone stop rallies and processions. Wherever there is democracy in the world, there will be these. It will be impossible to enforce this ban," Mukherjee told Frontline. Subrata is also the president of the West Bengal unit of the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC).

The BJP is the only party that has welcomed the order. Its leader Tathagata Roy said: "We welcome the High Court Order for two reasons. First, people of this city have wanted and needed such an order. Rallies and processions have inconvenienced the people tremendously for a long time. For a change now, the interest of the people have been put over the interest of the parties. Second, and most important, one of the factors deterring investment in West Bengal is the state of Kolkata's traffic. Rallies and roadblocks are a nuisance and a constant source of worry for the investors here."

State Law Minister Nisith Adhikari, however, does not agree with the view that the people of Kolkata want such a ban. "The rallies are for the common man and they are angry about the ban. In a country where there is so much poverty and unemployment, such bans amount to silencing the voice of protest," he said. Indicating that banning rallies is not a solution to traffic congestion in the city, he said, "One cannot chop off the head to get rid of a headache." He said those inconvenienced could have moved the court instead of the court working both as the complainant as well as the arbitrator.

The BJP, however, has found support for its view from many eminent industrialists. S.B. Ganguly, chairman, Exide Industries Ltd, has called it an "excellent judgment". The vice-chairman of RPG Enterprises has hailed it as a "landmark judgement." But then eminent industrialists and the chambers of commerce and industries have never really had to try too hard to make themselves and their demands heard by authorities concerned.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment