Vacation bench exceeded its limits, AP Chief Justice on suspension of GO No.1

YS Jaganmohan Reddy, the Andhra Pradesh High Court on Monday made some critical comments against the suspension of the GO No.1 by a vacation bench

Andhra Pradesh High Court

Andhra Pradesh High Court

AMARAVATI: In what could offer momentary solace to the Andhra Pradesh Government of YS Jaganmohan Reddy, the Andhra Pradesh High Court on Monday made some critical comments against the suspension of the GO No.1 by a vacation bench. Making these comments was none other than Chief Justice Prashanth Kumar Mishra.

Hearing an appeal of the State Government, that was referred to the High Court by the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Mishra observed that the vacation bench, which ordered the suspension of the GO. No.1, acted like a de facto chief justice. He felt that the bench had exceeded its jurisdiction by admitting the petition challenging the GO. The High Court, while refusing to extend the interim order, posted the matter for hearing for Tuesday, January 24, 2023. It also rapped the petitioners who filed the PIL against the GO No 1.

On January 13, the vacation bench consisting of Justice Battu Devanand and Justice V Radhakrishna Krupasagar temporarily suspended the GO till January 23, while admitting for hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by CPI leader K Ramakrishna. The GO prohibits public meetings and rallies on national and state highways besides municipal and panchayat roads in the State. The State Government came up with the order in the wake of twin tragedies at TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu’s public events in Kandukur and Guntur. At least 11 persons were killed in stampede incidents at these programmes.

The vacation bench, while asking the State Government to file its counter affidavit detailing the circumstances that prompted the issuance of the GO, posted the matter for hearing on January 20. As the vacation bench was only hearing urgent matters due to Sankranti holidays, the High Court registry objected to the filing of the PIL before it. The judges of the vacation bench heeding to the appeal of the petitioner’s counsel for treating the PIL as a lunch motion was also objected to by Advocate General S Sriram.

The State Government has reiterated several times that the GO was a prohibitory measure to regulate public meetings and not a ban, as was being propagated by the opposition political parties.

Referring to the proceedings before the vacation bench on January 13, Chief Justice Prashanth Kumar Mishra made key comments and stinging observations on Monday. Finding fault with the vacation bench’s discretion to admit the PIL, he wondered what would happen to the High Court if every case was considered to be important. Instances like these made every judge of the vacation bench a chief justice, he commented in an indictment of the vacation bench.

The Chief Justice also observed that a deep look into the petition also did not warrant any emergency with which it needed to be heard. “Going into the roots of the very proprietary of this case, it didn’t seem to be of such an urgent nature. I knew everything that was happening and how things happened that day. Don’t presume that I’m not aware of the case details, which the registry has updated me with from time to time,” he commented.

He further said that he would fully exercise his powers and discretion as the High Court Chief Justice. Questioning the speed with which the PIL was admitted, he asked, “Has there been any dharna staged in front of the vacation bench demanding that the petition be admitted? Why was the petition filed so hurriedly with the vacation bench? What was the need to file it as a lunch motion when there was no emergency in it?”.

GO No.1 maintains balance of rights and public interest

Arguing for the Andhra Pradesh Government, Advocate General Sriram said that the State had issued the GO in clear balance of fundamental rights of the citizens and public interest.

“No citizen is entitled to claim that he has a vested fundamental right to conduct a meeting on a public road. The State has not banned any public meetings on public roads. It has only regulated it with guidance on the parameters to be followed. There is no ban on processions and roadshows. The petitioner also has not contended that there was a ban on public processions and road shows,” he argued.

He also went on to contend that the Supreme Court had upheld the State's power to regulate the subject matter in the interests of public safety and public order. In the context of the eight deaths in the public meeting on a public road, the impugned GO was issued, he informed the High Court.

He further commented, “The petitioner has not come to this court with clean hands. It is a manufactured cause of action with contradictory stands and pleadings. The State has already appointed a commission of inquiry into the subject matter. We are awaiting its report. There is no merit in the contention of the petitioner that the GO was infringing fundamental rights of the people to speak or assemble,” he maintained.

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