Calcutta HC Allows BJP Rally Led By Amit Shah On November 29, Dismisses West Bengal Gov Appeal

The BJP is set to conduct a public meeting in front of Victoria House at Esplanade in central Kolkata on November 29, a location traditionally used by the ruling Trinamool Congress for its 'martyrs' day' rally over the years.

Amit Shah in Muzaffarpur

Observing that processions, rallies, and meetings are a "regular feature" in West Bengal, a division bench of the Calcutta High Court on Friday upheld a single bench order allowing a BJP public meeting to be addressed by Union Home Minister Amit Shah on November 29 here.

The division bench presided by Chief Justice T S Sivagnanam dismissed an appeal by the West Bengal government, challenging the November 20 order of the single bench.

Taking notice of the fact that processions, rallies, and meetings "are a regular feature in the state of West Bengal and more particularly in Kolkata", it upheld the order of the single judge bench which had allowed the BJP to hold the public meeting in front of the Victoria House at Esplanade in central Kolkata on November 29.

The ruling Trinamool Congress has been holding its 'martyrs' day' rally at this spot for several years.

The division bench, also comprising Justice Hiranmay Bhattacharyya, observed that there have been several instances which have come to the notice of the court where rallies, meetings, and agitations have been held for which no permission has been obtained.

The court said that very recently there was a large gathering of people agitating for a particular issue, paralysing the traffic movement in Kolkata and the police had a tough time controlling the situation.

The BJP had moved the high court against a rejection by the Kolkata Police of its application for holding the November 29 meeting, which, the party said, is to be addressed by Amit Shah.

The saffron party had claimed in its petition that a previous application to organize the meeting on November 28 had also been rejected on the ground that it was not made within the stipulated time frame.

The division bench said that the single bench was fully justified in setting aside the rejection and found no ground to interfere with its order.

The division bench noted that the single bench order also made it clear that the permission would be subject to reasonable restrictions.

It directed that since 28 terms and conditions have already been set out in the application format on the Kolkata Police website, those will be imposed, and the organizers would have to abide by these.

Observing that neither a political party nor any other organization is bothered about inconvenience faced by the public owing to the frequent rallies and meetings, the Chief Justice said that he finds it very common here since he came to Kolkata as a judge of the high court in October 2021.

While admitting that he cannot deny this, state's counsel Kishore Dutta submitted that rallies and demonstrations are generally not held at the said place in front of Victoria House, except a rally on July 21 every year which is organized by the Trinamool Congress.

This program, he submitted, has been held since 1994 to mark the death of 13 people in police firing on the day in 1993. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was a Youth Congress leader then and she was leading a march to Writers' Building, the then state secretariat, demanding voter's identity cards be made mandatory.

During the submissions, the court said that everybody should be treated as equal and one solution can be to ban all rallies and programs there.

Verbally observing that the state was acting arbitrarily and unnecessarily precipitating a problem, the bench said that it was making the matter a political issue.

The court asked the state's counsel how many of the programs held by organizations which shared the ruling dispensation's policies have followed the police advisory for making applications within two and three weeks.

"If you get those statistics, it will be amounting to washing dirty linen in public," the Chief Justice said.

Dutta submitted that an advisory of the police for the applicants states that an application will only be taken into consideration if applied between two and three weeks, neither before nor after, prior to the scheduled program.

Noting that the application was made at least 23 days before the proposed program, the court said that the advisory is not a statute as the name suggested.

The court said that the advisory cannot be taken as a rigid rule and the time limit of two to three weeks would itself suggest that there is discretion vested with the authorities and this is for the purpose of processing an application and cannot be used as a ground for its rejection.