The West Bengal BJP on Tuesday failed to get clearance for its proposed Rath Yatra from the Supreme Court, which left the decision to the state government after the latter raised security concerns over the event.
A bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices L Nageswara Rao and S K Kaul, however, directed the state government “to permit all public meetings, rallies etc. proposed to be held” by the state BJP “at different venues, provided adequate and timely information and schedules of such meetings, rallies etc. are furnished by the petitioner”, and make the decision regarding the yatra keeping in mind the fundamental right of speech and expression.
The apex court had last week asked the BJP to submit a revised plan to the state government for its yatra. Appearing for the party, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi told the bench that accordingly, a revised plan was submitted but the government had denied clearance to this too. Rohatgi contended that the state was trampling on fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution under Article 19.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who represented the state government, cited intelligence reports and said there was apprehension that the yatra could aggravate communal tension as it would pass through “communally sensitive areas”. He said such yatras had sparked violence in the past. He also submitted that the state asked for details of the meetings but this was not provided.
Rohatgi termed the reports of possible communal trouble as bogus, and said the bureaucrats who prepared it were showing their loyalty to the government. He said the party had submitted the details of the meetings as sought for, and that since it was a moving yatra, meetings would be held depending on the gathering of people on the yatra route.
After hearing both sides, the bench ordered that “looking into the details of the proposed Rath Yatras and the order of the State Government dated 14.1.2019, we cannot say that the apprehensions expressed by the State Government are totally unfounded” and that “it is for the State Government to maintain law and order in the State and the apprehensions expressed in the order will have to be addressed to by the petitioner to the Government in a reasonable manner”.
The court said “we, therefore, propose not to entertain this special leave petition any further and, instead, we are of the view that the same should be ordered to be closed by directing the State Government to permit all public meetings, rallies etc. proposed to be held by the petitioner at different venues, provided adequate and timely information and schedules of such meetings, rallies etc. are furnished by the petitioner.”
On the rath yatra plans, the court said, “It will be open for the petitioner to submit a further modified proposal, which meets and answers the apprehensions of the State Government… the State Government will consider the matter and pass appropriate orders keeping in mind that the present involves a case of exercise of the fundamental rights, inter alia, under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.”
The court asked the state government to expeditiously deal with any revised proposal submitted by the BJP “keeping in mind that with the commencement of the Board examination of CBSE and other Boards, the use of loudspeakers etc. may be banned”.
The BJP had approached the Calcutta High Court after the state refused to grant permission for its three yatras, which were originally scheduled to start on December 7, 9 and 14, 2018. A single bench of the High Court on December 20 allowed the party to go ahead with the programme, but a division bench stayed this a day later.