The Supreme Court on Monday reserved its verdict on a plea of the Tamil Nadu government against a Madras High Court order allowing the RSS to hold marches in the state.
A bench of Justices V Ramasubramanian and Pankaj Mithal reserved the verdict, after state government counsel Mukul Rohatgi argued there cannot be an absolute right to hold marches just as there cannot be an absolute ban on taking out such processions.
During the hearing, he submitted, "Can there be a vested right to hold processions, wherever an organisation wants? State government has allowed RSS to take out marches in particular routes, while directing the organisation to hold such marches indoors in other areas. It was done to maintain public order and tranquillity".
Senior advocate Mahesh Jethmalani, appearing for the RSS, said the right to assemble peacefully without arms under Article 19(1)(b) cannot be curtailed in the absence of a very strong ground.
He questioned the ban imposed by the government on the RSS to carry out marches in some areas on the ground that the Popular Front of India was also recently banned.
"Not a single incident of violence was reported from the areas, where these marches were carried out," Jethmalani said, adding that members of the RSS were attacked where they were sitting peacefully.
"The fact that a banned, terrorist outfit continued to attack members of the organisation with impunity is a matter of grave concern. It is embarrassing, especially when the state government should be cracking down on the PFI and allied organisations even more stringently. But, either they cannot control this, or they don't want to control this, because their sympathies are with the PFI," he said.
Senior advocate Maneka Guruswamy, also appearing for the RSS, submitted that the right of any group to peacefully assemble and to march cannot be curtailed unless there are well-founded reasons for escalations of hostilities.
The bench, after hearing the arguments, said it will pass an order on the plea of the state government.
On March 17, the top court had deferred the hearing on the plea of the state government challenging the High Court order after it was told that the state had filed a fresh appeal challenging the original order, dated September 22, 2022, that directed the Tamil Nadu Police to consider the RSS representation and grant permission to conduct the programmes without conditions.
On March 3, the Tamil Nadu government had told the top court that it is not completely opposed to allowing the RSS' route marches and public meetings across the state on March 5 but cited intelligence reports to say these cannot be held in every street or locality.
The state government sought some time to come up with a list of routes for the march.
Rohatgi had earlier told the court that the state will try to work out a solution and decide the routes it wanted the processions to take by then.
Counsel for the RSS has submitted that the state has allowed similar events by organisations like the 'Dalit Panthers' but the RSS was being singled out for harsh treatment.
The RSS, he has said, was allowed to conduct marches in six districts which it did. However, it has been asked to hold the event in enclosed spaces in 42 places.
The state government, in its earlier plea before the top court, said the route march will pose a law and order problem and sought a stay on the high court order.
Setting aside the order passed on November 4, 2022 by a single judge bench which had imposed conditions on the proposed state-wide route marches asking the RSS to hold the events indoor or in enclosed space, a division bench had restored the order dated September 22, 2022 which directed the Tamil Nadu Police to consider the RSS' representation and grant permission to conduct the programmes without conditions.
Accordingly, it had directed the RSS to approach the state authorities with three different dates of their choice for the purpose of holding the route march/peaceful procession and the state authorities were asked to grant permission to them on one of the chosen dates.
Also, the RSS was asked to ensure strict discipline and make sure there is no provocation or incitement on their part during the marches.
Challenging the single judge order, the RSS had sought a direction to the authorities to permit their members to hold the procession wearing their uniform throughout the state.
The organisation had earlier sought permission for the route march to commemorate the 75th year of Independence, the birth centenary of Bharat Ratna B R Ambedkar and Vijayadasami festival on October 2, 2022.