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Political parties and other groups are not permitted to stage campaigns, protests, or other events on footpaths by obstructing pedestrians’ freedom of movement in any way: Kerala High Court

Political parties and other groups are not permitted to stage campaigns, protests, or other events on footpaths by obstructing pedestrians’ freedom of movement in any way is upheld by the Kerala High Court in the case of Trivandrum Chamber of Commerce and Industry V. State of Kerala (W.P.(C) No.11886 of 2021) through a Division Bench of Justice Anil K. Narendran and Ziyad Rahman A.A, JJ.

FACTS OF THE CASE

The Trivandrum Chamber of Commerce and Industry filed the current petition in an effort to obtain a writ of mandamus ordering the respondents and law enforcement organisations, including the Police, to create and issue regulations designating specific public spaces in the State of Kerala for the purpose of holding mass assemblies, including protests, campaigns, demonstrations, etc.

 The petitioners had argued that it is illegal and unconstitutional to have gatherings near the Government Secretariat and Raj Bhavan, as well as on the nearby pathways. Notably, numerous organisations and political parties held rallies, marches, etc. on public areas including sidewalks and pavements, seriously creating disruption to nearby residents as well as businesses and other enterprises.

Campaigns or protests on footpaths, which at first were only temporary, have now taken on a permanent nature, along with sheds and other structures that give shelter to the campaigners or protestors and prevent the general public from utilising the footpath for the intended purpose.

JUDGMENT

The Bench held that it is only by considering all pertinent factors, such as the size of the road, the volume of traffic, and the type of additional use one wishes to make of the public streets, that it is possible to determine what would constitute a public nuisance and what could be included in the legitimate user. It should be noted that the Indian Roads Congress had developed Guidelines for Pedestrian Facilities, which states in Paragraph 4.2 that efforts should be made to create conditions so that pedestrians are not forced to walk in unsafe circumstances and that drivers respect the position of pedestrians.

The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways gave its assent to the Guidelines for Pedestrian Facilities (MoRTH). Therefore, in accordance with these recommendations, every local authority within the State is required to offer pedestrian facilities on public routes.

In Sivaprasad v. State of Kerala and others 2020, it was ruled that the primary goal of pavement design is to provide pedestrians with a reasonable level of safety and security while they go about their everyday lives. By allowing encroachments to be made on the pavements, that convenience, which has developed into a right of pedestrians, cannot be rendered meaningless.

No person shall cause any hindrance by conducting any business, meeting, assembly, procession, or demonstration on any public way or part thereof, according to sub-section (1) of Section 4 of the Kerala Public Ways (Restriction of Assemblies and Processions) Act, 2011. No gathering or meeting may be held in violation of Section 4’s sub-section (2) by obstructing any part of the sidewalk or street. No procession or demonstration may be held in violation of Section 4’s subsection (3) by completely blocking the road or the free flow of traffic.

Therefore, the Bench determined that the footpaths are not meant for use by political parties and other organizations to undertake campaigns, protests, etc. since doing so would in any way hinder the right of way of walkers. No political party or organisation may obstruct the right-of-way or the pathway on public roadways as part of protests, demonstrations, or the like by placing any temporary structures there, putting pedestrians including those with disabilities and limited mobility in danger as they cross the road.

In order to prevent encroachment of any kind, in any way, whether temporary or permanent, on the right of way or pedestrian facilities on public roads, the state was instructed to explain the measures taken to ensure strict enforcement of the Supreme Court’s orders and the relevant statutory provisions, including the Guidelines for Pedestrian Facilities developed by the Indian Roads Congress.

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JUDGEMENT REVIEWED BY NISHTHA GARHWAL

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