ALLOWING THE BJP to hold its rath yatra programme in West Bengal, days after the state government denied permission on the ground that it may lead to communal unrest, the Calcutta High Court on Thursday said courts can “interfere” if the administration exercises its discretionary power in a “whimsical and unreasonable manner”.
The single judge bench of Justice Tapabrata Chakraborty, however, laid down a set of conditions for the BJP and the state administration.
Stating that the administration had denied permission “mechanically”, the court said: “In the said conspectus of facts, it cannot be stated that the concerned officials had sufficient material to totally deny permission to the petitioner to organise the said yatra/ rally without even making an endeavour to ascertain as to whether the yatra can be allowed to be organised by imposing reasonable restrictions.”
“The judgments, upon which reliance has been placed as regards the scope of judicial review, disclose a consistent stand that the discretion exercised by the administrative authorities can certainly be interfered with in exercise of this court’s power of judicial review when such power has been exercised in a whimsical and unreasonable manner. In the instant case, without providing for reasonable restrictions, the authorities have passed an order towards total exclusion, which in my opinion, does not satisfy the test of reasonableness,” said the Judge.
“When the yatras/ rallies are not for any unlawful purposes, the same ought not to be totally prohibited unless there is an imminent threat to the breach of public order; even then, the restraint must be just and reasonable. The threat to public peace and tranquility should be real and not imaginary or a mere likely possibility,” he said.
Directing the BJP to conduct the programme peacefully, the court said the party would be held responsible in case of any untoward incident or damage or loss to public property. The court also directed the party to inform the superintendents of police of the districts, “in which the yatra/ rally shall enter, at least 12 hours before entering” it.
The police have been directed to deploy adequate force to ensure that there is no breach of law and order.
The BJP was earlier scheduled to kick off its rath yatra programme from December 7. On December 6, a single judge bench of the HC refused permission to the BJP. The party then approached the division bench, which asked the state chief secretary, home secretary and director general of police to hold a meeting with three representatives of the BJP and take a decision by December 14.
On December 15, the administration refused permission, following which the BJP moved the court on Monday. Welcoming the court’s order on Thursday, the BJP said the new dates would be decided soon.
“We were ready to abide by the conditions that have been laid down by the court. We had agreed to abide by similar conditions but the state government deliberately stalled our yatras by making baseless arguments. We thank the court and the people of the state for their support. Now, we will sit and decide the fresh dates for our rath yatra,” said state BJP president Dilip Ghosh.
“All three rath yatras planned from Cooch Behar, Ganga Sagar and Tarapith will be held, but the dates will change. Party president Amit Shah will inaugurate the yatras. In view of the festive season and exams beginning from February, we may reduce the duration of the rallies,” he said.
“We welcome this verdict. This Ganatantra Bachao Yatra will establish democracy in West Bengal. We will expose the dictatorship nature of the TMC government through these rallies. This yatra will build the foundation of the end of TMC rule in Bengal,” said BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya.
The state government on Thursday sought a stay on the order, but the court rejected the plea. Sources said the state government has decided to challenge the order.
“They (BJP) are trying to disrupt the law and order situation in the state everyday. They are speaking in a foul language and inciting violence. If anyone tries to stall the development ushered by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the administration will prevent such attempts with an iron fist,” said senior TMC leader and State Minister Partha Chatterjee.