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Plea in Supreme Court for ban on poll road shows

Threat to environment, traffic snarls and exposing political leaders to possible attacks from terrorists cited as reasons

By Our Legal Correspondent in New Delhi
  • Published 12.03.19, 4:35 AM
  • Updated 12.03.19, 4:35 AM
  • 2 mins read
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The Supreme Court of India The Telegraph file picture

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to consider a plea for “urgent” hearing of a petition that wants all forms of road shows banned as they pose a threat to the environment, cause traffic snarls and expose political leaders to possible attacks from terrorists.

A bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi declined the plea of advocate Viraj Gupta who had appeared for Vikram Singh, a social activist.

The court said the matter had already been listed for March 15.

Singh, the petitioner, has urged the court to direct the Election Commission to ban road shows and bike rallies which, he said, are against the law and instructions issued earlier by the poll panel.

“It is submitted that such road shows and rallies cause damage to the environment as well as traffic jams, air-noise pollution and big nuisance to the public,” the petition said.

According to the petitioner, the poll panel has issued various instructions for road shows and processions. For instance, the petition says, it is mandatory to register with the poll panel details of vehicles; a convoy cannot have more than 10; two convoys must maintain a distance of at least 200 metres; more than half the road cannot be covered, and the number of vehicles and persons joining a road show must be intimated in advance.

But the instructions, the petition said, have remained on paper, violated with impunity by all parties.

The petitioner said most road shows involve star campaigners perched on modified vehicles called raths. “These royal raths during democratic elections are modified to accommodate all luxuries to have cabins, kitchen, toilets, hydraulic lifts, Internet, TV, etc. Moreover, these raths are very expensive, and in excess to the election expenditure allowed by the Election Commission. Such raths are also in contravention to many rules, including the Motor Vehicle Act, 1988, and the Central Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989,” Singh has contended.

“The raths are a hazard in themselves and star campaigners often travel at the door or sit on the top of the vehicle along with many supporters. Apart from violating traffic laws, this also leaves VVIPs vulnerable to dangers and terror attacks, especially when there is a huge crowd of unknown people in the proximity.”

The petition recalled the May 1991 assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by LTTE militants in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu, arguing that people gathered around the star campaigner were also vulnerable to terror attacks. At least a dozen others died in the suicide attack.

The petition referred to the assassination of another former Prime Minister too — Benazir Bhutto — in neighbouring Pakistan after a rally in December 2007.

“The nation spends billions on the security of a few individuals and they cannot be allowed to put themselves in more danger, for mere political gains,” the petition said.

The petition spoke of traffic violations during road shows. “For such violations, organisers, star campaigners, political parties, rath-makers, supporters and local administration should be held liable but hardly any action is taken on the big and the mighty,” the petitioner said.

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