Andhra Pradesh HC strikes down state government’s GO 1; calls it a violation of fundamental rights

GO 1 was issued by the state on 2 January, following the death of 11 people in stampedes at rallies organised by the TDP in Guntur and Nellore.

ByRaj Rayasam

Published May 12, 2023 | 5:41 PMUpdatedMay 12, 2023 | 5:45 PM

TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu consoles the family members of one of the eight killed in a stampede at Kandukur (Supplied)

In what is being seen as a setback to the YS Jagan Mohan Reddy government, the Andhra Pradesh High Court on Friday, 12 May, struck down Government Order (GO) No 1, under which the police could restrict the conduct of public meetings on roads and other forms of demonstrations.

The high court felt that the GO was in violation of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.

The case details

The court delivered the judgement on the GO after hearing a batch of petitions filed by CPI state secretary K Ramakrishna, former minister Kollu Ravindra, Andhra Pradesh Congress president Gidugu Rudra Raju, former minister Kanna Lakshminarayana, and others.

A Division Bench of the high court, comprising Chief Justice Prashant Kumar Mishra and Justice DVS Somayajulu, had reserved the orders on 24 January and pronounced it on Friday.

Also Read: Naidu’s publicity mania led to Andhra stampede: CM Jagan

N Chandrababu Naidu inquires after injuredparty workers after the stampede on Wednesday, 28 December, 2022. (Supplied)

N Chandrababu Naidu inquires after injured party workers after the stampede on Wednesday, 28 December, 2022. (Supplied)

GO No 1 was issued by the state government on 2 January, following the death of 11 people in stampedes at rallies and public meetings organised by TDP supremo N Chandrababu Naidu in Guntur and Nellore districts.

The high court, on 12 January, issued an interim order suspending the GO till 23 January as it was prima facie in violation of Section 30 of the Police Act.

But the state moved the Supreme Court, challenging the high court order, since it was passed by a vacation bench which it said cannot take up a PIL for hearing.

Later, on 24 April, the Supreme Court asked the division bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court to dispose of the case at the earliest.

Also Read: 2 stampedes, 11 deaths: AP bans meetings, rallies on roads

‘Protection is their job’

The counsels representing the petitioners had argued in the high court that in respect to public meetings, the police’s role is limited only to regulating the crowd, which is their duty.

They argued that the GO No 1 has been brought out only to suppress the democratic right of the Opposition parties to hold rallies and demonstrations.

They also found fault with the state for trying to restrain the Opposition parties from conducting public meetings on the roads on the pretext that there might be law and order issues.

It is the responsibility of the police to provide protection when the parties were taking permission from them to hold the public meetings, they argued.

The counsels referred to Section 30 of the Police Act, which allows the police to give permission to political parties to hold rallies and public meetings, and deny it only when there is a specific input — like a law and order problem.

They charged that the spirit of the GO is that the police could deny permission routinely and give permission only when in special cases. The GO had also laid down that the parties that seek permission should make their own arrangements to prevent any incidents, like stampedes or jostling.

The counsels recalled how the previous Andhra Pradesh government had provided security to the incumbent Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy when he was in the Opposition and was on a padayatra in the state.

Also Read: Day after Guntur stampede, police detain NRI V Srinivas

The government’s take

The government, represented by the advocate general (AG), argued that the state had the power to advise the police on denying or according permission in adherence to the Police Act.

The AG said that there was no blanket ban on the meetings and demonstrations on the roads and that the GO was issued keeping in view the need to take a call depending on the merit of each permission application.

The police department would check the antecedents of those seeking permission and only after vetting their application, they could take a decision on whether or not permission could be given.