The Government of Andhra Pradesh has prohibited organising public meetings and rallies on the State Highways and National Highways and issued certain guidelines under the Police Act, 1861. Home (Legal) Department Principal Secretary Harish Kumar Gupta has issued a G.O. RT No. 1 dated January 2, 2023, ordering the concerned public authorities to avoid giving permissions to massive public meetings on the highways, narrow roads, panchayat and municipal roads across the State.
The order mandated the Director General of Police, District Collectors and Superintendents of Police not to grant licence for holding meetings or rallies on roads. “It is ideal that no licence be granted for any application seeking permission to conduct a meeting on State Highways and National Highways. By and large, alternative locations for such congregation would be available by way of public grounds and the applicants may also be suggested to locate alternative private places for the purposes of such meetings in order to mitigate the hardship to the people at large. However, in rare and exceptional circumstances and for reasons to be recorded in writing, any application could be considered,” the order stated.
The government also mandated that, “Municipal road and Panchayat roads are narrow and are meant for free movement of the people staying in the local area, and any obstruction due to meetings on these roads endangers lives, disrupts the civic life, emergency services, causing inconvenience to the general public. Only in rare and exceptional circumstances, and for reasons to be recorded in writing, the applications for grant of permission for public meetings may be considered. The authority should avoid permitting such meetings on public roads but in rare circumstance, while dealing with the subject matter, shall be guided by the width of the road, the duration of the meeting, the location of the venue, exit points, number of people likely to attend the meeting, crowd control measures etc.,” the statement added.
Further, the new orders mandated that, “The Police may suggest alternative locations away from public roads subject to the condition that the meetings should not obstruct free flow of traffic on public roads and for the safety of the travelling public. It is also advisable that the district administration and the police machinery upon request from such meetings, forthwith identify designated places in their respective jurisdiction, away from public roads, for conduct of public meetings, which do not hamper the flow of traffic, public movement, emergency services, movement of essential commodities, etc.”
In the G.O., the Principal Secretary maintained that, “Several fatal incidents involving loss of life and injury and inconvenience is being caused to general public due to public meetings and gatherings on roads and road margins. Of recent occurrence, is the unfortunate incident of loss of lives of 8 persons, in a meeting at Kandukur, Nellore district on account of the public meeting of a political party being held on a road. The conduct of Assembly and processions on public roads and public streets is regulated under the provisions of the Police Act, 1861.”
Acts that govern roads, public places in State
Broadly, the Statutes recognise roads and public streets to be an alternative expression and the reference is this regard could be seen from the definition of the public road under Section 2(33) of A.P. Panchayat Raj Act, 1994 and Section 2(31) of the A.P. Municipalities Act, 1965, Section 2(46) and 2(52) of the HMC Act, 1955 as adapted by the State of A.P. and as applicable to A.P. Municipal Corporations Act, 1994, Mr. Harish Kumar explained in the G.O.
Matter of fundamental rights under Article 19 of Constitution
The Government maintained that, “It is the police machinery of the State which is empowered under law to regulate these activities in the public interest, while being cognizant of the fact that there is a fundamental right to peaceful assembly under Artcile 19(1)(b) of the Constitution of India. The right to conduct a public meeting on public roads and streets, is a subject matter of regulation, as the Section 30 of the Police Act, 1861 itself mandates.”