Public Ways; Antony Vs. Superintendent of Police [Kerala High Court, 19-07-2011]

Public Ways (Restriction of Assemblies and Processions) Act, 2011 (Kerala) – Section 4 – Prohibition of obstruction on public ways – the prohibition under Section 4 of the Public Ways Act will apply to ‘public way’, ‘foot path’ and ‘road-margin’. Putting up of any shed or structure either temporary or permanent at any such places for the purpose of any business, meeting assembly, procession or demonstration could not be permitted.

# 2011 (3) KLT 361 : 2011 (3) KLJ 381 : ILR 2011 (3) Ker. 415 : 2011 (3) KHC 179


IN THE HIGH COURT OF KERALA AT ERNAKULAM

PIUS C. KURIAKOSE  AND C.K. ABDUL REHIM, JJ.

W.P. (C) No. 17962 of 2011 (U)

Dated this the 19th day of July, 2011

Antony Vs. Superintendent of Police

For the Petitioner: Renjith Thampan, Advocate; For the Respondents: K. Jayakumar, Senior Advocate, C. Anil Kumar, Advocate, T.K. Vipindas, Government Pleader.

J U D G M E N T

Abdul Rehim, J.

The petitioner is running a Bar attached Hotel with Boarding facility at Kuttipuram Town in Malappuram District, under the name and style ‘Hotel Salkara’, on the strength of Ext.P1, FL 3 licence granted under the provisions of the Abakri Act and the Foreign Liquor Rules 1953 made thereunder. Ext.P1 licence was issued in the year 1985 and was periodically renewed, currently upto 31.3.2012. The licence fee remitted by the petitioner for the current year is to the tune of Rs.22 lakhs and 18 workers are working in the Hotel.

2. On the night of 6.6.2011 there occurred assaults between the suppliers working in the Bar Hotel and a few customers. A person involved in the said incident, Shri. Ayoob, died on the next day, which was a normal death due to cardiac arrest, according to the police authorities. However, the incident lead to protest against conduct of the Bar, and demonstrations started under leadership of some local people. In the said circumstances the petitioner had approached this court on an earlier occasion in WP(C).No.16631/2011 seeking police protection for peaceful conduct of business in the Bar Hotel. Respondents 5 and 6 herein along with one Shri. I.V.Rajagopalan were arrayed as party respondents alleged as creating obstructions under the guise of prohibitionists against the use of liquor. The above said Sri. I.V.Rajagopalan conceded that he has nothing to do with the alleged obstruction, but he had only participated in a meeting convened to highlight the evils of drinking. Respondents 5 and 6 herein, who were respondents 2 and 3 in the said writ petition, contended that the petitioner had procured the licence fraudulently and that the Bar is being conducted in violation of the relevant statutory provisions. However it was conceded that they are not in any way obstructing running of the Bar Hotel, but only peacefully demonstrating in front of the Bar raising objections against violation of the relevant Rules. They undertook that they will not indulge in any contumacious or culpable conducts. Respondents 3 and 4 herein, who were respondents 4 and 5 in that writ petition submitted that there is no threat to the conduct of the Bar and the police will afford necessary protection, if any such threat is there. Through Ext.P2 this court disposed of WP(C). No.16631/2011 on the following terms:-

“In the result, (a) this writ petition is allowed. (b) Respondents 4 and 5 are directed to afford police protection for the petitioner to peacefully run his bar attached hotel-Hotel Salkara, Kuttipuram, Malappuram District against any illegal obstruction that may be raised by respondents 1 to 3 or persons acting under them. ) We make it clear that this direction shall not in any way fetter the rights of respondents 1 to 3 to challenge the licence issued in favour of the petitioner in accordance with law or to hold peaceful demonstrations without in any way obstructing the ingress and egress of the petitioner, his employees and his customers to the hotel. “

3. The present writ petition is filed raising allegations that, immediately on passing of Ext.P2 judgment, the respondents 5 and 6 collected large number of persons and erected a shed in front of the Hotel with temporary roof attached to the building. It is averred that, the shed is erected in front of the entrance to the Bar and entrance to the boarding and lodging area and the petitioner had to close down the shutter of the boarding and lodging area because of the violent protest and showering of abuse by respondents 5 and 6 and their henchmen even on the customers of the petitioner. It is alleged that apart from scouting on the street a group of persons are permanently stationed in front of the Hotel blocking entrance and abusing customers and other persons coming to the Bar and the Hotel. It is stated that the building in question is abutting ‘Kuttipuram Main Road’ at Kuttipuram Town and the temporary shed is erected on the main road, in violation of mandates of the ruling of this court in

# Chief Secretary to Government vs. Khalid Mundappilly, 2010 (3) KLT 757

and also the provisions of the

# Kerala Public Ways (Restriction of Assemblies and Processions) Act 2011

(hereinafter referred to as the Public Ways Act, for short). It is contended that the shed was constructed in the presence of police officials and inspite of specific requests made, the respondents 5 and 6 or their men were not prevented from such illegal activity, obviously under the undue influence of respondents 5 and 6. It is further stated that inspite of Ext.P4 complaint submitted before the 4th respondent, no action was taken. Under such circumstances the petitioner is seeking direction to ensure that respondents 5 and 6 do not conduct any ‘dharna’ or meeting atleast within a distance of 100 meters from the entrance of the Hotel building and also to command respondents 1 and 2 to ensure that the respondents 5 and 6 and their men do not erect any temporary shed on the public road and conduct ‘dharna’ and meeting in violation of the ruling of this court cited above and other relevant statutes.

4. In the counter affidavit of respondents 5 and 6 it is stated that, neither the entrance of the Hotel nor the entrance of the boarding and lodging area is blocked by the shed put up in front of the building. It is alleged that the petitioner had deliberately closed the entrance to the boarding and lodging area to create a scene and to make it appear that the entrance is blocked. Contention of the petitioner that a group of persons are permanently stationed in front of the petitioner’s Hotel blocking the entrance and is abusing the customers and other persons, is denied as untrue. According to respondents 5 and 6, there is a 2 Meter wide path way in front of the building and the shed is put up only on the other side of the path way, in the land belonging to the Panchayat, without blocking either the path way or the road, and not in any way obstructing ingress and egress to the petitioner’s Hotel and Bar or the boarding and lodging house. It is further contended that, under Ext.R5(a), the local authority, the Kuttipuram Grama Panchayat, had given consent to use the precincts of ‘Kuttipuram Bus Stand’ for dharna and strike conducted by the “Kuttipuram Madhya Virudha Samithi”. Further contention is that the demonstrators are not conducting dharna on the public road or courtyard and not making any nuisance or obstruction to the general public and that the demonstration is being conducted strictly in compliance with the terms of Ext. P2 judgment.

5. As directed by this court, the 3rd respondent has filed an affidavit stating that, on the date of Ext.P2 judgment, a temporary shed was erected by persons under the leadership of 5th respondent, near the Bar, in the property of the Panchayat. The shed is not obstructing ingress and egress to the Bar Hotel and the police is providing adequate protection to the free ingress and egress, as per the directions contained in Ext.P2, by deploying 10 to 15 policemen at the spot. However it is stated that, a request has been made to the Revenue Divisional Officer , Tirur and to the Secretary of Kuttipuram Grama Panchayat to remove the temporary shed erected in front of the Bar. It is conceded that the agitation is causing disturbed atmosphere in front of the Bar, because some times there occurred exchange of words between the protesters and customers who were coming to the Bar. It is also conceded that chances of clash between the protesters and the customers cannot be ruled out and presence of police is being ensured to maintain the law and order situation under peaceful control. It is assured that the police will take all steps to comply with the directions contained in Ext.P2 judgment.

6. To have a better appraisal of the situation, we have perused Exts.P3, P3(a) P3(b), and P7 photographs produced by the petitioner. We had also occasion to peruse photographs produced by learned counsel appearing for respondents 5 and 6 ( 5 Nos.) and 3 photographs produced by learned Government Pleader on behalf of respondents 1 to 4. From those photographs it is evidently clear that the Bar Hotel is functioning in a three storied building situated on the side of the public road in Kuttipuram town. It is evident that the temporary shed is erected in front of the said building, beyond the footpath which immediately abuts the building. The footpath in question is having a width of approximately 2 Meters covered by concrete slabs. The shed is erected by planting Aracanut Poles and the roof is covered with ‘Tarpaulin (PVC)’ sheets tied on to Bamboo Poles put across. It is clearly evident that the shed is situated on the side of the public road in a space beyond the footpath, which is virtually shoulder of the public road. The roofing sheets are seen tied up to the building in question by using coir ropes. From the photographs it is evident that the agitators are sitting inside the shed on plastic chairs. Ext.P7 photograph would reveal that there is a gathering of more than approximately 100 people in front of the building, both inside and outside the shed. It is also evident that the shed in question is situated directly in front of the entrance of the Bar as well as the entrance to the boarding and loadging area. Of course, there is yet another shutter situated in between the two entrances wherein a jewellery shop, viz. ‘Rajesh Jewellery’ is functioning.

7. Sri. Ranjith Thampan learned counsel for the petitioner addressed contentions pointing out that, mere argument of not causing any physical obstruction to the ingress and egress is a fallacy. The shed in question is put up on the public road just in front of the Hotel building and the men gathered under leadership of 5th and 6th respondents are causing all sorts of hindrance to the business activity. It is alleged that the protesters are using abusive language to the customers of the Bar and the Hotel. He specifically points out that the shed was put up on the date on which Ext.P2 judgment was pronounced and inspite of pointing out the illegal activity on the public road in violation of the judgment reported in 2010 (3) KLT 757 and in violation of the Public Ways Act, the respondents 1 to 4 have not taken any action to remove the shed or to ensure protection for conduct of business in a peaceful manner.

8. Per contra, Sri.K.Jayakumar, senior counsel appearing ror respondents 5 and 6 contended that the erection of the shed is not in any manner illegal and that the protesters are only demonstrating peacefully without causing any obstruction to the ingress and egress of the petitioner, his employees or the customers. Since such demonstration is permitted under Ext.P2, the petitioner could not seek any further direction, is the contention. Learned senior counsel argued that the business in liquor is ‘res extra commercium’ and that no one has any fundamental right to trade in liquor . But an endeavor to bring prohibition in consumption of intoxicating drinks is the directives under Article 47 of the Constitution of India and the mandate of the constitution applies to all the three functionaries of the State. Therefore the agitation which is in tune with prohibition of consumption of liquor could not in any manner be termed as an illegal activity, which can be prevented in any manner, is the contention. With respect to the prayer in the writ petition to ensure that respondents 5 and 6 do not conduct any dharna or meeting within a distance of 100 Meters from the entrance of the petitioner’s Hotel, it is contended that, the petitioner has no manner of right to seek such a direction as long as the protesters are not obstructing ingress and egress to the business premises. Referring to a judgment of this court in

# Bosco Antony vs. State of Kerala, 2007 (4) KLT 526

learned senior counsel contended that the police has no duty to prevent demonstration within 100 Meters of the Bar Hotel and the only restriction which can be imposed is that the demonstrators should not obstruct ingress and egress of the consumers and workers.

9. On a perusal of the judgment in 2007 (4) KLT 526, citied above, it is evident that this court observed that though the business of toddy shop is not protected by Article 19(1)(g), the local people cannot take law into their own hand and obstruct functioning of the shop. But it is also observed that the police could not interfere with the demonstrations or obstructions or agitation of the people of the locality. It is specifically observed that no statute has been brought to the notice of this court, prohibiting demonstration within 100 meters of the toddy shop and authorising police to enforce any such statute. Therefore it is observed that, when rule or law does not prevent, the citizens are normally free to do every thing not prohibited by law and therefore the police do not have any duty to prevent the demonstration within 100 meters of the toddy shop. The only observation is that they shall not obstruct the ingress and egress of the customers and workers.

10. In the case at hand, the question to be decided is whether there is any violation of law from the side of the so called protesters. Normally, if it is only an allegation with respect to violation of Ext.P2 judgment, the remedy would have been in a different jurisdiction. But a dispute arises as to whether the shed put up in front of the building on the public road can be permitted or not. As observed in the foregoing paragraphs, it is evident that a temporary shed has been erected in front of the Bar Hotel, beyond the area of the footpath. Sri.Ranjith Thampan had drawn our attention to various provisions contained in the Public Ways Act as well as the directions contained in the decision reported in 2010(3) KLT 757.

11. The question whether anyone has got a fundamental right to assemble or to hold a meeting on the public road or the road margin was elaborately considered by this court in the above said decision. This court observed that the right guaranteed to assemble peacefully without arms does not authorize anybody to insist that he has got a fundamental right to conduct a procession or demonstration on populous urban roads, without any control or regulation. It is observed that holding of public meeting and forceful inclusion of the public assembled for their purposes at junctions as audience, is violation of law and human rights, and is a public nuisance. It is held that that neither the provisions contained in the Municipality Act 1994 nor in the Panchayat Raj Act 1994 authorises the authority concerned to grant permission for holding public meeting on public roads and the road margin. Similarly there is no provision in the Highway Protection Act to grant such permission. It was held that obstruction of public road by holding any meeting on the road or its side, amounts to offences punishable under section 431 and 399 of the Indian Penal Code. No one has a fundamental right to assemble or hold meeting on public road or road margin which are meant for vehicular traffic and the pedestrians.

12. Analysed in view of the dictum laid as above, question arises as to whether the temporary shed put up in the case at hand is in violation of law or whether the same amount to an offence. Whether the obstructers have any fundamental right to conduct demonstration in a shed put up on a public road, is the question to be considered. The subject now stands covered through a legislation of the State. Section 4 of the Public Ways Act imposes restrictions as follows:-

# 4. Prohibition of obstruction on public ways

(1) No person shall cause any obstruction by conducting any business or meeting or assembly or procession or demonstration on any public way or part thereof.

(2) No meeting or assembly shall be conducted so as to obstruct any portion of the carriageway or footpath.

(3) No demonstration or procession shall be conducted in such a manner that the entire carriageway or free flow of traffic is fully obstructed.

Section 5 (3) of the Act enables any person, Association, Organisation, Trust or body to apply to the District Police Chief, atleast 7 days in advance, for a licence for use of any portion of public way for any purpose referred under sub Section (1) of Section 5, on remeitting the required fee. Respondents 5 and 6 have no case that the shed in question was put up after obtaining any permission as contemplated under section 5.

13. Sri. K. Jayakumar, learned senior counsel, raised contention that the shed in question is put up not on a public road. Contention is that the shed is on a portion of land in between the footpath and the public road, which belongs to the Panchayat and that the Panchayat had permitted usage of such land by virtue of Ext.R5(a).

14. ‘Public way’ defined under section 2(d) of the Act includes any highway, bridge, causeway, road lane, footpath, square, courtyard, garden path, channel or passage, assessable to the public , which is not owned by a private person. Under section 2(b) ‘footpath’ is defined as any area comprised in a public way earmarked for movement of pedestrians having a width of less than one meter but not exceeding three meters on either side of the public way, after leaving sufficient space for movement of vehicles. ‘Road-margin’ is also defined under section 2(e) which means the portion of the public way which extends outwards on each side from the footpath towards the outer edge of the public way (emphasis supplied) The restriction under section 4 is for conducting any business or meeting or assembly or procession or demonstration on any ‘public way’ or part thereof (emphasis supplied). Definition of public way includes footpath. ‘Road-margin’ is also defined as a portion of the public way. So it is evident from Section 4 that the prohibition contemplated thereunder with respect to ‘public way or part thereof’ will takes in both ‘foot path’ and ‘road-margin’. Therefore we hereby hold that the prohibition under Section 4 of the Public Ways Act will apply to ‘public way’, ‘foot path’ and ‘road-margin’. Putting up of any shed or structure either temporary or permanent at any such places for the purpose of any business, meeting assembly, procession or demonstration could not be permitted.

15. As observed above, from a perusal of the photographs it is evident that, the shed is situated at an area in front of the footpath on the public way. It is not even on the road margin, since going by the definition road – margin can only be towards the outer edge of the public way extending outwards on each side from the footpath. By no stretch of imagination it can be said that such an area is not an area of the ‘public way’ or a part thereof. In the case at hand, it is evident that it is on the shoulder of the road that the shed is put up. Respondents 1 to 4 have got clear opinion that the shed is unauthorized and they have taken up the matter before the Revenue Divisional Officer and the Secretary of the Grama Panchayat to take steps to remove the temporary shed. Therefore we have no hesitation to hold that the shed put up in front to the petitioners Bar Hotel is violative of the prohibition imposed under Section 4 of the Public Ways Act.

16. While exercising the discretionary jurisdiction vested on this court under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, we are of the considered opinion that the protection already granted to the petitioner through Ext.P2 judgment should always be effective and meaningful. The attitude of the respondents 3 and 4 in permitting the shed in question to be put up on the public road and in permitting conduct of demonstrations by assembling in and outside the shed on the public road will amount to permitting an illegal activity. Eventhough we are not persuaded to grant any relief restraining the dharna or meeting to be conducted at a distance of 100 meters away from the entrance of the petitioner’s hotel, we are inclined to direct the respondents 1 to 4 to ensure that respondents 5 and 6 and their men do not erect any shed on the public road and conduct any dharna and meeting on the public road in front of the building even on the footpath or on the road-margin. We clarify that the rights protected under Ext.P2 judgment in favour of respondents 5 and 6 for holding peaceful demonstration without causing any obstruction to the ingress and egress of the petitioner, his employees and customers, will not entitle them to put up a shed just in front of the building on the public way and to have demonstration on the public way or footpath or road margin or road shoulder causing obstruction to usage of the public way or causing nuisance and abuse to the customers.

17. Therefore we are inclined to issue a positive direction to respondents 1 to 4 to take effective steps for removal of the shed put up in front of the petitioner’s Bar Hotel on the public way and to prevent any dharna, meeting, demonstration or agitation being conducted on the public road including the footpath or road-margin or road shoulder. Effective steps for removal of the shed and prevention of such activities shall be taken within 24 hours of receipt of this judgment. Respondents 1 to 4 should ensure that respondents 5 and 6 or anybody else claiming as prohibitionists are only conducting peaceful demonstration or dharna without causing any obstruction or nuisance or abuse to the petitioner, his workmen and the customers coming to the Bar or to the Boarding house, only at places not prohibited under the Public Ways Act. The writ petition is disposed of with the above directions.

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