New Delhi, Sep 12 (PTI) ”In a democracy, a political party cannot be prevented from functioning by sealing its office,” the Supreme Court observed on Monday in rejecting the plea of ousted AIADMK leader O Panneerselvam ( OPS) v Madras High Court Order handing over the keys to the party headquarters to party leader K Palaniswami. “Allowing the sealing of a political party’s office can be misused and have broad repercussions, which will not be appropriate in a democratic setup,” the Supreme Court said.
A bench of judges DY Chandrachud and Hima Kohli said: ”We will not interfere with the order of the High Court. You (OPS) are expelled from the party. If we allowed you to enter the party office, it would be a disaster. All in all, this High Court order has kept the peace, and nothing untoward has happened for two months. The High Court said its order would not stand in the way of further proceedings pending in other court instances. He told senior lawyer Ranjeet Kumar, appearing for OPS, “In a democracy, a political party cannot be stopped from functioning by sealing its office. We have to let democracy work. Your client (OPS) is kicked out, now let the party work. You can avail yourself of other legal remedies and take legal action to enforce your right. If you succeed, then you have a valid point”. The higher court was hearing a plea from PAHO challenging a July 20 order from the Madras High Court, which overturned the Tamil Nadu Department of Revenue’s lockdown and sealing proceedings of the AIADMK headquarters, following July 11 violence and ordered that the keys to the office be handed over to party leader K Palaniswami.
Initially, Kumar said the High Court should have sent the case back for proper consideration. The bench said the High Court had correctly stated that the jurisdictional requirement of a (Subdivision Magistrate) for the exercise of power had been found to be absent. He said: ”Allowing the sealing of a political party‘s office can be misused and have wide repercussions, which will not be appropriate in a democratic setup. That a magistrate attaches himself to the office of a political party is extraordinary. It means you don’t want a political party to operate in a democracy. Kumar said there was a clash between two factions of party workers and the magistrate relied on the photographs of the violence after which he was sealed. The bench then said how ownership became disputed.
Kumar replied that both factions wanted to enter the property, which caused clashes between supporters. The High Court, after reviewing the documents, declared the Divisional Revenue Officer (RDO)/Executive Magistrate’s Order to be silent on the building dispute. ”The two factions can clash in front of the party office but we can’t just go and seal the office. This is by no means justified,’ he said, adding that the High Court order was passed on July 20 and it is now September. He said for two months this High Court order brought peace, ‘let it be there’, and ‘you can pursue your remedy under the law’. On July 20, the High Court quashed the proceedings, while issuing orders on the original criminal petitions of Palaniswami, then the party’s acting general secretary. He had ordered the RDO/Executive Magistrate to remove the seal and hand over the keys to Palaniswami immediately and had requested Royapettah Police to provide adequate protection at the office, 24 hours a day, located on Avvai Shanmugam Salai.
No party cadre will be allowed into the office for a month to avoid any untoward incident, the High Court had added, while rejecting Panneerselvam’s plea to grant him possession of the party headquarters, ‘MGR Maaligai’. The RDO had sealed off the premises following a violent clash which erupted between supporters of Palaniswami and Panneerselvam on July 11, when a meeting of the General Council of the AIADMK, its highest decision-making body, chose the first as Acting General Secretary, ousting OPS, whom he “expelled” from the organization.
The High Court had cited a similar incident in 1988 involving Janaki, wife of AIADMK founder, MG Ramachandran, regarding the property in question, in court. And he had ruled that even three days before, Janaki had been in possession of the premises, the judge pointed out, and applied the same theory in his present order.
”OPS, after trying to block the meetings of the General Council, created a warlike situation, as a last resort on July 11th. property of the political party which does not belong to any of the individuals. He cannot create a war situation by forcing the doors of the building which was kept locked by the other side. Such an act is nothing but mere trespass,’ the High Court had said. The contested order under section 145 CrPC does not even mention who was actually in possession on the day of the order, when it was based on the main opinion that there was a likelihood of (violence) The issue spread to various parts of the state. The mechanical order seizing the property of Tamil Nadu’s premier opposition party headquarters will strike at the very democratic process and amount to oppression, the high court had observed.
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