Supreme Court issues notice on plea against blanket orders under Section 144 CrPC ahead of elections

The Supreme Court on Friday issued notice on a plea filed against passing of blanket orders under Section 144 CrPC, banning public meetings etc ahead of Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections. The court directed that any applications of the nature filed by the petitioners shall be decided by the competent authority within 3 days of filing.

The bench comprising Justice BR Gavai and Justice Sandeep Mehta was hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by activists Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey, when it passed the order having pan-India application.

Appearing for the petitioners, Advocate on Record Prashant Bhushan submitted that something very fantastic is happening. He added that in the last 6 months, blanket orders under 144 are being issued for the whole duration of the elections from the time of announcement of the election by the Election Commission till the end of the election, banning all assemblies, meetings, demonstrations, etc.

To this, Justice Gavai surprisingly questioned how such orders can be issued. Advocate Bhushan further pointed to three Constitution bench decisions to aver that there has to be some well-founded apprehension of breach of peace before Section 144 CrPC orders are passed.

Subsequently, Justice Mehta asked the counsel to take the court through any one of such notices or orders. In compliance with the same, Advocate Prashant Bhushan referred to an order passed on March 16 by the District Magistrate of Barmer. 

The order read that Lok Sabha elections have been announced by the Election Commission and as per the instructions of the EC, the Lok Sabha elections should be conducted in a peaceful, free, fair, well-organized manner. The order added that no person will be able to organize a procession or public meeting without the prior written permission of the concerned Returning Officer but this restriction will not apply to marriage ceremonies and funeral processions.

The counsel asserted that the petitioners, who were desirous of conducting a democracy yatra to educate the voters about exercising their democratic rights, were asking for a very limited interim order: that their application seeking permission to conduct the yatra, etc. be decided within 48 hours. He further highlighted that permission was also sought with respect to Assembly elections in last years’ November-December, however, the same was not granted.

Considering the submissions, the court issued notice in the matter. Justice Gavai pronounced that by way of interim order, the bench directs that if any such application is made by the petitioner to the competent authority, the same shall be decided within a period of 3 days from making of such application.

Consequently, Advocate Bhushan prayed that the notice may be made returnable shortly, because the order (under Section 144) is coming in the way of everything. Initially, Justice Gavai said 3 weeks, but after Bhushan pleaded that an earlier date may be given else elections will all be over essentially. The notice was made returnable in 2 weeks. 

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