Withdraw G.O. 1 Instantly: HRF

The Human Rights Forum (HRF) demands that the Government of Andhra Pradesh withdraw G.O. No. 1 (Home (Legal II) Department) dated 02-01-2023 issued by the Principal Secretary to Government of AP.

The G.O. is a blatant violation of the right to freedom of speech and expression and freedom to assemble guaranteed by Article 19(1) (a) and (b). It makes these Constitutionally guaranteed rights an exception and the restrictions laid down in Article 19(2) and (3) the norm. The Kandukuru incident that is cited as a reason for issuing the G.O. is a most unfortunate one. The organisers and the police may not have anticipated the mishap but a similar kind of incident a couple of days later in Guntur cannot be termed a mere accident. It is a case of criminal negligence on the part of both the organisers of the event and the police administration and the offenders have to be brought to justice.

Section 30 of the Police Act, 1861 empowers the Superintendent of Police (SP), Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) and the District Magistrate (DM) more than sufficiently to manage the crowd. This archaic and colonial legislation has sufficient teeth. It does not need any further fortification, that too through a subordinate piece of legislation. The G.O. also has made the refusal to grant permissions under the Act a norm and right to hold public meetings and processions, a Constitutionally guaranteed right, an exception. While Section 30 of the Police Act provides discretionary power to the SP, ASP and DM to grant permissions to hold public meetings and processions, G.O. 1 severely restricts these powers. These officers can grant such permissions only in ‘rare and exceptional circumstances’ and they are further obligated to state reasons for granting permissions. This is nothing but an infringement of our rights guaranteed under Article 19 and 21.

G.O. No.1 casts it net wide to cover every possible public place to impose these unreasonable restrictions on public gatherings. As the term ‘road’, ‘streets’ and ‘thoroughfares’ are not defined in the Police Act, 1861, the G.O. chose to borrow the definition from other legislations like the panchayat laws, municipal laws and laws pertaining to State and National Highways and bring every possible public space under the purview of G.O. No. 1. The G.O. mandates that officers should suggest ‘alternative locations away from public roads’. What are these alternative locations supposed to be? The public roads seem to end nowhere. And even if the meeting is held in an approved location, how are people supposed to reach the destination? They again will have to fall back on the roads, streets and sundry thoroughfares. It is evident that the G.O. can be used in an arbitrary manner. The ruling party is already holding huge rallies across the State while political opponents are denied the same rights. It is indicative of how arbitrarily power can be exercised.

The concerns of the government about crowd management are genuine but it seems to be searching for an answer in the wrong place. Section 30 of the Police Act, 1861 and Cr.P.C., 1973 sufficiently strengthens the hands of the police to manage and regulate public gatherings. We are living in a digital era. When individual commuters are using GPS to navigate through traffic what is preventing the police administration from using GPS, other digital devices and technology for crowd management.

Instead of further pursuing the matter in court and wasting public money, we demand that the government withdraw G.O. No. 1 at the earliest.

UG Srinivasulu
HRF AP State president

Y Rajesh
HRF AP State general secretary


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