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SC asks authorities to decide within 3-day application for permission to conduct 'yatras' for elections

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday directed the competent authorities to decide within three days the applications filed seeking permission for conducting 'yatras' or public meetings aimed at educating people on elections.

A bench of Justices B R Gavai and Sandeep Mehta, in its interim order, said such applications made to the competent authority should be decided within three days from the date of making the application.

The apex court has posted the matter for hearing after two weeks.

The apex court was hearing a petition seeking to quash prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the CrPC issued solely on the grounds of impending elections.

The plea filed by social workers Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey sought direction to restrain the indiscriminate practice of magistrates and State governments to pass "blanket orders" under section 144 of the CrPC to prohibit meetings, gatherings, processions or 'dharnas' ahead of every Lok Sabha or Assembly election and until the declaration of results.

Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) deals with the power to issue orders in urgent cases of nuisance or apprehended danger.

"These blanket prohibitory orders directly prevent civil society and general public from freely discussing, participating, organising, or mobilising on issues affecting them ahead of elections," the petition stated.

During the hearing, advocate Prashant Bhushan, representing the petitioners, told the bench that in the last six months, blanket orders under section 144 of CrPC have been issued for the whole duration of elections, from the time of the election announcement by the Election Commission until the end of elections.

Such orders prohibit all kinds of assemblies, meetings and demonstrations during the duration of elections, Bhushan added.

The bench expressed surprise over blanket orders being issued to prohibit any assembly during the polls and asked, "How can such orders be passed."

Bhushan said the petitioners had applied for permission to conduct a 'yatra' to educate voters about their democratic rights during last year's Assembly election, but permission was not granted. He further said that the authorities must decide on such applications within a stipulated time.

"The conduct of elections, being the ostensible reason for invoking Section 144 - is neither a valid ground recognised under Section 144, nor an emergent situation to justify the imposition of sweeping prohibitory orders. Section 144 orders--of the kind impugned herein--have been passed mechanically, without any material or exigency to justify prohibition on the general public, and amount to an illegal interference with the right to vote," the petition stated.

The petitioners said that these prohibitions apply to all persons, including those who do not belong to a political party or candidate, irrespective of the agenda or purpose, and are held at any place within the municipal limits, including community grounds and halls.

"Thus, the scope of prohibitions is wide and sweeping, and it potentially hinders civil society from mobilising and creating awareness amongst the voters in a time-bound manner, which will in turn help voters exercise their right to vote in its truest form," added the plea.

The petitioners contend that these blanket orders under Section 144, issued solely on the ground of the impending general elections, are "manifestly illegal and unconstitutional." 

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