The Supreme Court on Friday, January 20 declined to entertain a plea by the Andhra Pradesh government against the recent order of the high court suspending the government's order, which prohibited conducting public meetings and rallies on roads, including national highways. The bench, also comprising Justice PS Narasimha, asked the Chief Justice of the Andhra Pradesh High Court to ensure the hearing of the plea by a division bench headed by him.
"We will request the Chief Justice of the high court to ensure hearing of the matter by a division bench of the high court presided over by him on January 23," said the bench. After hearing brief arguments, the top court sent it back to the Andhra Pradesh High Court.
Senior advocate CS Vaidyanathan, representing the Andhra Pradesh government, submitted before a bench headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud that there were procedural infirmities in the high court taking up the matter. Vaidyanathan submitted there was an egregious assumption of jurisdiction by a vacation bench, and cited a circular, which said no policy and administrative matters would be taken up during winter break. The bench said, "We are not inquiring into the merits of the matter."
Vaidyanathan added that the writ petition was mentioned and heard on the same date, and the government order was stayed by the high court on the same day. Senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Raju Ramachandran, representing the respondents, contended that the Advocate General of the state was heard before passing of the order by the division bench. Lawyer Mahfooz Ahsan Nazki also appeared on behalf of the Andhra Pradesh government.
The Andhra Pradesh High Court, earlier this month, suspended till January 23 the operation of the Government Order (GO) that prohibited conducting public meetings and rallies on roads, including national highways. On January 2, the Andhra Pradesh government issued the order against the backdrop of a stampede at a rally held by the main opposition Telugu Desam Party at Kandukuru on December 28.
The state government, in its plea in the apex court, said that recently on December 28, 2022, eight people died during a stampede in a political roadshow held in Kandakuru, Nellore district. "The state was thus prompted to issue the impugned GO, wherein it clarified/emphasised the considerations to be taken by the police while regulating public meetings /demonstrations under Section 30 of the Indian Police Act, 1861," said the plea.
The Andhra Pradesh police department was advised to refrain from granting permissions for such public meetings unless adequate and exceptional reasons were provided by the person seeking permission to conduct such a meeting, it added.
The interim order was passed by the high court on a plea challenging the GO. It scheduled the matter for further hearing on January 20 and sought the state government's response. It was argued before the high court that the order was passed to stifle the opposition voices against the government.