Andhra Pradesh High Court (HC) Chief Justice Prashant Kumar Mishra took a serious view of the hasty manner in which a vacation Bench had apparently stayed the operation of the G.O. Rt .No.1 (dated January 2, 2023), through which certain curbs were imposed on holding meetings and rallies on public roads, during the previous hearing of the PIL filed by CPI State secretary K. Ramakrishna, on January 12.
Taking up the matter on Monday as per the directions of the Supreme Court, which refused to interfere with the interim order (issued by the vacation Bench) that the G.O. be suspended till January 23, Chief Justice Mishra made a caustic remark that the vacation court acted as a ‘de-facto CJ’ and belittled the CJ’s position by taking up the case as if the petitioner staged a protest with the demand that the case should be dealt with urgently.
He observed that every vacation judge could become a CJ if such things were allowed to go on and wondered what would happen to the institution in such situations.
Advocate-General (A-G) S. Sriram said it was a clear case of ‘coram non-judice’ and that the order passed by the vacation Bench was unenforceable. He asserted that the State took the policy decision (to issue the G.O.) after striking a balance between the fundamental rights of the citizens and public interest.
The A-G maintained that no citizen was entitled to claim that he/she had a vested fundamental right to conduct a meeting on a public road, and the State had not banned any meetings on public roads. What the State did was meant to regulate such mass gatherings on the basis of certain parameters to be followed.
There was no ban on processions and roadshows, and the petitioner had also not contended that there was a total ban, he claimed. The government appointed a commission of inquiry into the two incidents of stampede that prompted it to issue the impugned G.O. with no ulterior motives, and the report was awaited, Mr. Sriram added.
Appearing for the petitioner, senior advocate Raju Ramachandran said there was a complete ban on the fundamental right to assemble and movement under the G.O., and the government could not issue a policy framework to prohibit the grant of licences for the conduct of public meetings. The G.O. also imposed a ban on public processions and roadshows.
As far as moving the matter during the vacation was concerned, it was within the court’s discretion to grant lunch motions, Mr. Ramachandran told the court, and argued that the embargo on hearing policy matters and administrative decisions was only concerning the HC and not the State’s policy matters.
Upon the completion of arguments, the HC neither extended the interim order nor granted a fresh interim order, and posted the matter to January 24 to hear other PILs where the same relief was sought (to declare the G.O. as illegal).