People in the city tell G. Anand that they are put to a lot of hardship during roadside protests.
A cross-section of people in the city has lauded the High Court's decision to strike down Section 5 (1)(c) of the Kerala Public Ways (Restriction of Assemblies and Processions) Act.
The section empowered district police chiefs to grant permission to hold meetings and assemblies in public places and roadsides. The court observed that the police had misused the section recklessly and without exercising their lawful discretion.
It said district police chiefs in the State could not be “realistically expected to show the courage to reject a single application” from political parties, trade unions, or religious bodies.
The residents who spoke to The Hindu on the High Court order pointed out that they had several reasons to applaud it.
For one, even a small procession on the arterial Mahatma Gandhi Road caused traffic to move at a snail's pace on urban thoroughfares. Snarls developed rapidly and took time to clear.
The people faced much difficulty accessing important public facilities, including airport, railway stations, hospitals, bus terminals, and government offices.
The residents said that in most marches and protests, particularly those conducted with police consent, demonstrators occupied the entire width of the carriageway. They rarely allowed pedestrians, two-wheeler riders, or private vehicles to cross the road at important junctions.
There were many cases of demonstrators, mostly inebriated youth, assaulting other road-users and damaging parked vehicles. Public property, including transport buses, mostly bore the brunt of demonstrations that turned violent. Offenders were rarely arrested or charge-sheeted.
Several people said that traffic snarls were at their worst when the State Legislative Assembly convened. On such days, there were at least 10 to 15 small and big demonstrations along Mahatma Gandhi Road. It seemed that there was a competition between demonstrators to occupy the entire road and wilfully impede traffic and pedestrian movement, one person said. Demonstrators rarely heeded the lawful directions of the police.
A trader at Statue junction said that on most days, demonstrations and protests caused the locality to be cut off from the rest of the city. Business was poor on such days. His employees could rarely to make it to the establishment on time. Commuters had to wait for hours to catch buses. Demonstrations caused motorists and two-wheeler riders to take unnecessary detours to reach their destinations.
The public was also concerned about the blatant and almost round-the-clock misuse of loudspeakers at venues of festivals and political functions. The police rarely acted on complaints regarding the misuse of loudspeakers in public places.
Keywords: roadside meetings