The Calcutta High Court on Tuesday made some pertinent remarks free speech in a plea to allow an association space for an indefinite sit-in protest. (West Bengal Recognised Unaided Madrasha Teacher’s Association and others v. State of West Bengal and others).
A Single Judge Bench comprising of Justice Sabyasachi Bhattacharyya emphasized that the fundamental right to assemble peacefully cannot be curtailed. However, a balance has to be struck between such rights and public order and security.
“… it is evident that the petitioners’ fundamental rights to freedom of speech and expression and to assemble peacefully cannot be curtailed by the State. At the same time, a balance has to be struck between the rights of the petitioners and public order as well as security…”, reads the order.
The Court was hearing a writ petition moved by an association aggrieved that their request for permission to stage a sit-in protest at Bikash Bhavan at Salt Lake or in the adjacent area was rejected by the State on flimsy and inadequate grounds.
When the matter was taken up for hearing, the counsel for the concerned authority submitted that they could be accommodated in another area for a limited time, in order to obviate difficulties ensuing from indefinite permission.
The authority stated that permission could be granted for a protest at a venue 50 meters away from the gate of the Central Park, where a metro car shed is situated, which lay in the direction of the Salt Lake City Centre.
Accepting this stance, the Court directed that the petitioner-association be accommodated at the venue proposed by the State.
After highlighting that right to assemble peacefully had to be balanced with public order and security, the Court enjoined the association to follow COVID-19 protocol and pollution control norms.
“… the petitioners, while holding such demonstration, have to restrict themselves within the parameters set up by the Covid-19 protocols as well as all pollution control norms”, the Court states, in its order.
The petitioners have been additionally directed to strictly maintain law and order at all points of time during its demonstration.