The first bench comprising Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy made the observation while partially setting aside the curbs under Section 144 that was routinely imposed in Puducherry ahead of the elections, despite there being not even an apprehension to impose the clampdown.
The Constitution allowed expansive freedom to the citizens, and there could not be any authoritarian regime nor any regimentation of the citizens or their lives, the bench noted. Though certain restrictions might be imposed to maintain law and order, they have to be reasonable and proportional to the anticipated problem, Chief Justice Banerjee said.
“Every citizen in a free country can do anything lawful that the citizen chooses, and even the slightest of restriction on the citizens’ movement has to be justified,” he noted.
Taking exception that the notice on March 22 imposing Section 144 was singularly lacking in indicating any cogent reason for imposing the restrictions, Chief Justice Banerjee said, “It is also facetious that a blanket prohibitory order is passed merely because it was done on one or two previous occasions and despite the order not indicating any basis for any apprehension of trouble or unlawful activities.”
Issuing a supercilious prohibitory order on the ruse that it would help conduct the election smoothly could not pass muster without there being any justifiable basis, the Chef Justice added.
Recording the Election Commission’s clarification that the prohibitory order would not be a blanket ban of movement or assembly but limited to the specific areas spelt out, the bench reiterated that the order would be restricted strictly only to the prohibition of unlawful assembly and movement, holding public meetings, carrying of weapons, sticks, banners, placards, etc.
The Puducherry unit of the CPM, which pressed for the plea to be taken up for an urgent hearing on Sunday, submitted that there was no tearing hurry for an order to be passed on March 22 without giving any notice. It indicated premeditation to instill fear in the minds of the people, it said.
The petitioner added that in such a scenario, only the committed voter would venture out to vote while the ordinary voter might believe that there was a possibility of trouble and thus decide not to step out.