Supreme Court of India on Ramlila Maidan Incident

In Re: Ramlila Maidan Incident Dt.4/5.06.2011 vs Home Secretary, Union of India & Ors.

Version of incidents put forward by the Amicus Curiae:

In 2008, Baba Ramdev was the first person to raise the issue of black money publically. The black money outside the country was estimated at total of Rs.400 lakh crore or nearly nine trillion US Dollar. On 27th February, 2011, an Anti-Corruption Rally was held at Ramlila Maidan, New Delhi where more than one lakh persons are said to have participated. The persons present at the rally included Baba Ramdev, Acharya Balakrishna, Ram Jethmalani, Anna Hazare and many others.

 On 20th April, 2011, the President of Bharat Swabhiman Trust, Delhi Pardesh submitted an application to the MCD proposing to take Ramlila Maidan on rent, subject to the general terms and conditions, for holding a yoga training camp for 4 to 5 thousand people between 1st June, 2011 to 20th June, 2011. He had also submitted an application to the Deputy Commissioner of Police (Central District) seeking permission for holding the Yoga Training Camp which permission was granted by the DCP (Central District) vide his letter dated 25th April, 2011. This permission was subject to the terms and 47 conditions stated therein. Permission letter dated 25th April, 2011 reads as under:- “With reference to your letter No. Nil, dated 20.04.2011, on the subject cited above, I am directed to inform you that your request for permission to organize Yoga Training Session at Ramlila Ground from 01.06.2011 to 20.06.2011 by Bharat Swabhiman Trust Delhi Pradesh has been considered and permission is granted for the same subject to the conditions that there should not be any obstruction to the normal flow of traffic and permission from land owing agency is obtained. Besides this, you will deploy sufficient numbers of volunteers at the venue of the function. Further, you are requested to comply with all the instructions given by Police authorities time to time failing which this permission can be revoked at any time.”

Continuing with his agitation for the return of black money to the country, Baba Ramdev wrote a letter to the Prime Minister on 4th May, 2011 stating his intention to go on a fast to protest against the Government’s inaction in that regard. The Government made attempts to negotiate with Baba Ramdev and to tackle the problem on the terms, as may be commonly arrived at between the Government and Baba Ramdev. This process started with effect 48 from 19th May, 2011 when the Prime Minister wrote a letter to Baba Ramdev asking him to renounce his fast. The Finance Minister also wrote a letter to Baba Ramdev informing him about the progress in the matter.

On 23rd May, 2011, Baba Ramdev submitted an application for holding a dharna at Jantar Mantar, which permission was also granted to him vide letter dated 24th May, 2011, which reads as follows:- “With reference to your letter dated 23.05.2011, on the subject mentioned above. I have been directed to inform you that you are permitted dharna/satyagrah at Jantar Mantar on 04.06.2011 from 0800 hrs. to 1800 hrs. with a very limited gathering.”

In furtherance to the aforesaid permission, it was clarified vide letter dated 26th May, 2011 informing the organisers that the number of persons accompanying Baba Ramdev should not exceed two hundred. On 27th May, 2011, the DCP (Central District), on receiving the media reports about Baba Ramdev’s intention to organize a fast unto death at the Yoga Training Camp, made further enquiries from Acharya Virendra Vikram requiring him to clarify the actual purpose for such huge gathering. His response to this, vide letter dated 28th May, 2011, was that there would be no other programme at all, except residential yoga camp. However, the Special Branch, Delhi Police also issued a special report indicating that Baba Ramdev intended to hold indefinite hunger strike along with 30,000-35,000 supporters and that the organizers were further claiming that the gathering would exceed one lakh.

When Baba Ramdev arrived at Delhi Airport on 1st June, 2011, four senior ministers of the UPA Government met him at the Airport and tried to persuade him not to pursue the said fast unto death since the Government had already taken initiative on the issue of corruption. In the meanwhile, large number of followers of Baba Ramdev had gathered at Ramlila Maidan by the afternoon of 4th June, 2011. In the evening of that very day, one of the Ministers who had met Baba Ramdev at the Airport, Mr. Kapil Sibal, made public a letter from Baba Ramdev’s camp calling off their agitation. This was not appreciated by Baba Ramdev, as, according to him, the Government had not stood by its commitments and, therefore, he hardened his position by declaring not to take back his satyagraha until a proper Government Ordinance was announced in place of forming a Committee. The ministers talked to Baba Ramdev in great detail but of no avail. It is stated that even the Prime Minister had gone the extra mile to urge Baba Ramdev not to go ahead with the hunger strike, promising him to find a “pragmatic and practical” solution to tackle the issue of corruption. Various attempts were made at different levels of the Government to resolve this issue amicably. Even a meeting of the ministers with Baba Ramdev was held at Hotel Claridges. It was reported by the Press/Media that many others supported the stand of Baba Ramdev. It was widely reported that Mr. Sibal had said: “we hope he honours his commitment and honours his fast. This Government has always reached out but can also rein in.” The Press reported the statement of the Chief Minister, Delhi as stated by the officials including Police officers in the words: “action would be taken if Baba Ramdev’s Yoga Shivir turns into an agitation field and three-tier security arrangements have been made for the Shivir which is supported to turn into a massive satyagraha”. Even Anna’s campaign endorsed Baba Ramdev’s step. In this background, on 4th June, 2011, Baba Ramdev’s hunger strike began with the motto of `bhrashtachar mitao satyagraha, the key demands being the same as were stated on 27th February, 2011.

Baba Ramdev had been granted permission to hold satyagraha at Jantar Mantar, of course, with a very limited number of persons. Despite the assurance given by Acharya Virendra Vikram, as noted above, the event was converted into an Anshan and the crowd at the Ramlila Maidan swelled to more than fifty thousand. No yoga training was held for the entire day. At about 1.00 p.m., Baba Ramdev decided to march to Jantar Mantar for holding a dharna along with the entire gathering. Keeping in view the fact that Jantar Mantar could not accommodate such a large crowd, the permission dated 24/26th May, 2011 granted for holding the dharna was withdrawn by the authorities. Certain negotiations took place between Baba Ramdev and some of the ministers on telephone, but, Baba Ramdev revived his earlier condition of time-bound action, an ordinance to bring black money back and the items missing on his initial list of demands. At about 11.15 p.m., it is stated that Centre’s emissary reached Baba Ramdev at Ramlila Maidan with the letter assuring a law to declare black money hoarded abroad as a national asset. The messenger kept his mobile on so the Government negotiators could listen to Baba Ramdev and his aides. The conversation with Baba Ramdev convinced the Government that Baba Ramdev will not wind up his protest. At about 11.30 p.m., a team of Police, led by the Joint Commissioner of Police, met Baba Ramdev and informed him that the permission to hold the camp had been withdrawn and that he would be detained. At about 12.30 a.m., a large number of CRPF, Delhi Police force and Rapid Action Force personnel, totaling approximately to 5000 (as stated in the notes of the Amicus. However, from the record it appears to be 1200), reached the Ramlila Maidan. At this time, the protestors were peacefully sleeping. Thereafter, at about 1.10 a.m., the Police reached the dais/platform to take Baba Ramdev out, which action was resisted 53 by his supporters. At 1.25 a.m., Baba Ramdev jumped into the crowd from the stage and disappeared amongst his supporters. He, thereafter, climbed on the shoulders of one of his supporters, exhorting women to form a barricade around him. A scuffle between the security forces and the supporters of Baba Ramdev took place and eight rounds of teargas shells were fired. By 2.10 a.m., almost all the supporters had been driven out of the Ramlila Maidan. The Police sent them towards the New Delhi Railway Station. Baba Ramdev, who had disappeared from the dais earlier, was apprehended by the Police near Ranjit Singh Flyover at about 3.40 a.m. At that time, he was dressed in salwar-kameez with a dupatta over his beard. He was taken to the Airport guest-house. It was planned by the Government to fly Baba Ramdev in a chopper from Safdarjung Airport. However, at about 9.50 a.m. the Government shelved this plan and put him in an Indian Air Force helicopter and flew him out of the Indira Gandhi International Airport.

The Supreme Court after the facts and the relevant law in great detail held as follows.


(1) In discharge of its judicial functions, the courts do not strike down the law or quash the State action with the aim of 213 obstructing democracy in the name of preserving democratic process, but as a contribution to the governmental system, to make it fair, judicious and transparent. The courts take care of interests which are not sufficiently defended elsewhere and/or of the victims of State action, in exercise of its power of judicial review.

The State and the Police could have avoided the tragic incident by exercising greater restraint, patience and resilience. The orders were passed by the authorities in undue haste and were executed with force and overzealousness, as if an emergent situation existed. The decision to forcibly evict the innocent public sleeping at the Ramlila grounds in the midnight of 4th/5th June, 2011, whether taken by the police independently or in consultation with the Ministry of Home Affairs is amiss and suffers from the element of arbitrariness and abuse of power to some extent. The restriction imposed on the right to freedom of speech and expression was unsupported by cogent reasons and material facts. It was an invasion of the liberties and exercise of fundamental freedoms. The members of the assembly had legal protections available to them even under the provisions of the Cr.P.C. Thus, the restriction was unreasonable and unwarrantedly executed. The action demonstrated the might of the State and was an assault on the very basic democratic values enshrined in our Constitution. Except in cases of emergency or the situation unexceptionably demanding so, reasonable notice/time for execution of the order or compliance with the directions issued in the order itself or in furtherance thereto is the pre- requisite. It was primarily an error of performance of duty both by the police and respondent No.4 but the ultimate sufferer was the public at large.

(2) From the facts and circumstances that emerge from the record before the Court, it is evident that it was not a case of emergency. The police have failed to establish that a situation had arisen where there was imminent need to intervene, having regard to the sensitivity and perniciously perilous consequences that could have resulted, if such harsh measures had not been taken forthwith.

(3) The State has a duty to ensure fulfillment of the freedom enshrined in our Constitution and so it has a duty to protect itself against certain unlawful actions. It may, therefore, enact laws which would ensure such protection. The rights and the liberties are not absolute in nature and uncontrolled in operation. While placing the two, the rule of justice and fair play requires that State action should neither be unjust nor unfair, lest it attracts the vice of unreasonableness or arbitrariness, resultantly vitiating the law, the procedure and the action taken thereunder.

(4) It is neither correct nor judicially permissible to say that taking of police permission for holding of dharnas, processions and rallies of the present kind is irrelevant or not required in law. Thus, in my considered opinion, the requirement of associating police, which is an important organ of the State for ensuring implementation of the rule of law, while holding such 216 large scale meetings, dharnas and protests, would not infringe the fundamental rights enshrined under Articles 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(b) of the Constitution. This would squarely fall within the regulatory mechanism of reasonable restrictions, contemplated under Articles 19(2) and 19(3). Furthermore, it would help in ensuring due social order and would also not impinge upon the rights of others, as contemplated under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The police authorities, who are required to maintain the social order and public tranquility, should have a say in the organizational matters relating to holding of dharnas, processions, agitations and rallies of the present kind. However, such consent should be considered in a very objective manner by the police authorities to ensure the exercise of the right to freedom of speech and expression as understood in its wider connotation, rather than use the power to frustrate or throttle the constitutional right. Refusal and/or withdrawal of permission should be for valid and exceptional reasons. The executive power, to cause a restriction on a constitutional right within the scope of Section 217 144 Cr.P.C., has to be used sparingly and very cautiously. The authority of the police to issue such permission has an inbuilt element of caution and guided exercise of power and should be in the interest of the public. Such an exercise of power by the Police should be aimed at attainment of fundamental freedom rather than improper suppression of the said right.

(5) respondent no.4 is guilty of contributory negligence. The Trust and its representatives ought to have discharged their legal and moral duty and should have fully cooperated in the effective implementation of a lawful order passed by the competitive authority under Section 144 Cr.P.C. Due to the stature that Baba Ramdev enjoyed with his followers, it was expected of him to request the gathering to disperse peacefully and leave the Ramlila Maidan. He ought not have insisted on continuing with his activity at the place of occurrence. Respondent no.4 and all its representatives were bound by the constitutional and fundamental duty to 218 safeguard public property and to abjure violence. Thus, there was legal and moral duty cast upon the members of the Trust to request and persuade people to leave the Ramlila Maidan which could have obviously avoided the confrontation between the police and the members of the gathering at the Ramlila Maidan.

(6) As difficult as it is to anticipate the right to any freedom or liberty without any reasonable restriction, equally difficult it is to imagine existence of a right not coupled with a duty. The duty may be a direct or an indirect consequence of a fair assertion of the right. Part III of the Constitution, although confers rights, duties, regulations and restrictions are inherent thereunder.

It can be stated with certainty that the freedom of speech is the bulwark of democratic Government. This freedom is essential for the appropriate functioning of the democratic process. The freedom of speech and expression is regarded as the first 219 condition of liberty in the hierarchy of liberties granted under our constitutional mandate.

(7) It is undisputable that the provisions of Section 144 Cr.P.C. are attracted in emergent situations. Emergent power has to be exercised for the purposes of maintaining public order. The material facts, therefore, should demonstrate that the action is being taken for maintenance of public order, public tranquility and harmony.

(8) Even if an order under Section 144 Cr.P.C. had to be given effect to, still Respondent no.4 had a right to stay at the Ramlila Maidan with permissible number of people as the land owning authority-MCD had not revoked its permission and the same was valid till 20th June, 2011. The chain of events reveals that it was a case of police excesses and, to a limited extent, even abuse of power.

(9) the order passed by the competent authority and execution thereof  were not mala fide in law or in fact nor was an abdication of power and functions by the Police. The action, of course, partially suffered from the vice of arbitrariness but every arbitrary action necessarily need not be mala fide. Similarly every incorrect decision in law or on facts of a given case may also not be mala fide but every mala fide decision would be an incorrect and impermissible decision and would be vitiated in law. Upon taking into consideration the cumulative effect of the affidavits filed on record and other documentary evidence, the Court did not favour the argument that the decision of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Union of India reflected its shadow on the decision making process and decision of the Police authorities.

(10) there would be no illegality if the police authorities had acted in consultation with the Union Ministry as it is the collective responsibility of various departments of the State to ensure maintenance of law and order and public safety in the State.

(11) Every person/body to whom such permission is granted, shall give an undertaking to the authorities concerned that he/it will cooperate in carrying out their duty and any lawful orders passed by any competent court/authority/forum at any stage of the commencement of an agitation/dharna/ procession and/or period during which the permission granted is enforced. This, of course, shall be subject to such orders as may be passed by the court of competent jurisdiction.

(12) Even on the touchstone of the principle of `in terrorem’, the Court held that police have not acted with restraint or adhered to the principle of `least invasion’ with the constitutional and legal rights available to respondent no.4 and the members of the gathering at the Ramlila Maidan.

(13) The present case is a glaring example of trust deficit between the people governing and the people to be governed. Greater confidence needs to be built between the authorities in power and the public at large. Thus while considering the `threat perception’ as a ground for revoking such permissions or passing an order under Section 144 Cr.P.C., `care perception’ has to be treated as an integral part thereof. `Care perception’ is an obligation of the State while performing its constitutional duty and maintaining social order.

(14) It is unavoidable for the Supreme Court to direct that the police authorities should take such actions properly and strictly in accordance with the Guidelines, Standing Orders and the Rules applicable thereto. It is not only desirable but also a mandatory requirement of the present day that the State and the police authorities should have a complete and effective dispersement plan in place, before evicting the gathering by use of force from a particular place, in furtherance to an order passed by an executive authority under Section 144 of the Cr.P.C.

(15) This is not a case where the Court can come to the conclusion that the entire police force has acted in violation to the Rules, Standing orders and have fallen stray in their uncontrolled zeal of forcibly evicting innocent public from the Ramlila Maidan. There has to be a clear distinction between the cases of responsibility of the force collectively and the responsibility of individual members of the forces. Some of the police officers/personnel were very cooperative with the members of the assembly and helped them to vacate the Ramlila Maidan while others were violent, inflicted cane injuries, threw bricks and even used tear-gas shells, causing fire on the stage and total commotion and confusion amongst the large gathering at the Ramlila Maidan. Therefore, these two classes of Police Force have to be treated differently.

(16) Thus, while directing the State Government and the Commissioner of Police to register and investigate cases of criminal acts and offences, destruction of private and public property against the police officers/personnel along with those members of the assembly, who threw bricks at the police force causing injuries to the members of the force as well as damage to the property, the Court issued the following directions:

  1. Take disciplinary action against all the erring police officers/personnel who have indulged in brick-batting, have resorted to lathi charge and excessive use of tear gas shells upon the crowd, have exceeded their authority or have acted in a manner not permissible under the prescribed procedures, rules or the standing orders and their actions have an element of criminality. This action shall be taken against the officer/personnel irrespective of what ranks they hold in the hierarchy of police.
  2. The police personnel who were present in the pandal and still did not help the evacuation of the large gathering and in transportation of sick and injured people to the hospitals have, in my opinion, also rendered themselves liable for appropriate disciplinary action.
  3. The police shall also register criminal cases against the police personnel and members of the gathering at the Ramlila ground (whether they were followers of Baba Ramdev or otherwise) who indulged in damage to the property, brick-batting etc. All these cases have already been reported to the Police Station Kamla Market. The police shall complete the investigation and file a report under section 173 of the Cr.P.C. within three months from today.

The Court also directed that the persons who died or were injured in the unfortunate incident should be awarded ad hoc compensation. Smt. Rajbala, who got spinal injury in the incident and subsequently died, would be entitled to the ad- hoc compensation of Rs.5 lacs while persons who suffered grievous injuries and were admitted to the hospital would be entitled to compensation of Rs.50,000/- each and persons who suffered simple injuries and were taken to the hospital but discharged after a short while would be entitled to a compensation of Rs.25,000/- each.

For breach of the legal and moral duty and for its contributory negligence, the consequences of financial liability would also pass, though to a limited extent, upon the respondent no.4- Trust as well. Thus, the Court directed that in cases of death and grievous hurt, 25% of the awarded compensation shall be paid by the Trust.