Political parties cannot be allowed to encroach upon footpaths or public roads by erecting temporary structures for demonstrations, protests etc, the Kerala High Court recently observed, asking the State government to explain the steps taken by it to prevent such transgressions (The Trivandrum Chamber of Commerce and Industry Vs. State of Kerala)..The Court noted that despite various Supreme Court judgments in this regard, political parties in scant regard for law, are putting up structures on footpaths and even on public roads, all over the State."The protesters/agitators having political backing are even permitted to lay carpet and place chairs on the footpath. On account of such encroachments, pedestrians including those with disabilities and reduced mobility are forced to walk through the right of way of public roads, in unsafe circumstances," the Court observed. .The Court, therefore, directed the State Government to file an affidavit in a month's time explaining the steps it has taken in order to prevent encroachment on the right of way or pedestrian facilities on public roads in compliance with previous orders and judgments of the Supreme Court and existing guidelines formulated by the Indian Road Congress.."No political party or organisation can be permitted to encroach footpath or right of way of public roads, in connection with any such protest, demonstrations, etc., by erecting any temporary structures on the right of way or on the pedestrian facilities, forcing pedestrians including those with disabilities and reduced mobility to walk in unsafe circumstances," the Court underscored. .A Division Bench of Justices Anil K Narendran and Ziyad Rahman AA was hearing a petition filed by the Trivandrum Chamber of Commerce and Industry seeking directions to the State Government and other law enforcement agencies to earmark certain areas in the State for the purpose of holding mass assemblies including protests, demonstrations etc. The petition also prayed for directions to be issued to State authorities to remove assemblies staged around Government Secretariat and Raj Bhavan in the State capital, Thiruvananthapuram including the adjoining footpaths, and a declaration that staging or holding of assemblies in those areas is illegal and unconstitutional..The petitioner, represented by advocate Shashank Devan, alleged that protests and demonstrations held in public places, including roads and footpaths, were severely inconveniencing the general public and commercial establishments around those places. Devan specifically highlighted the protests held by various organisations and political parties in front of the Government Secretariat and Raj Bhavan. The petitioner submitted news articles and images of protests showing that some sheds and structures erected on a temporary basis to provide shelter to protesters have gradually become permanent constructions on footpaths.It was submitted that despite the enactment of the Kerala Public Ways (Restriction of Assemblies and Processions) Act, 2011 which defines 'footpath' as any area comprised in a public way earmarked for movement of pedestrian, protesters, who often have the backing of political parties, are permitted to put up structures, lay carpets and place chairs on footpaths. Pertinently, it was pointed out that on account of these structures blocking footpaths, pedestrians including those with disabilities and reduced mobility are forced to walk through the right of way of public roads, in unsafe circumstances.Often these structures encroach on the right of way of public roads causing traffic congestion as well, the plea added..The Court referred to several judgments of the Kerala High Court and the Supreme Court in its order..It cited Sivaprasad v. State of Kerala (2020), wherein the Kerala High Court held that the main reason for laying out pavements is to ensure the rights of the pedestrians to go about their daily affairs with reasonable measure of safety and security..The Bench also adverted to the judgement in Union of India v. State of Gujarat (2020), in which the Supreme Court had issued a general direction to the effect that, from the date of that order the government shall not grant any permission for installation of any statue or construction of any structure in public roads, pavements, sideways and other public utility places..The Court also referred to Guidelines for Pedestrian Facilities formulated by Indian Roads congress, which mandates prevention of encroachment of any nature, either temporary or permanent, on the right of way or on the pedestrian facilities on public roads, since any such encroachment will adversely affect the mobility and safety of all pedestrians including those with disabilities and reduced mobility.The Bench noted that despite the enactment of the Kerala Public Ways (Restriction of Assemblies and Processions) Act 2011 by the State Legislature and the law laid down by the Supreme Court and the Kerala High Court in various cases, the State and the law enforcement machinery have not taken necessary steps to to ensure strict enforcement of the relevant statutory provisions and the guidelines by the Indian Roads Congress."Footpaths are not intended for stocking articles for trade or for display of goods by traders, in front of their shops or establishments. Similarly, footpaths are not intended for the purpose of holding campaigns, demonstrations, etc., by political parties and other organisations, by causing any obstruction whatsoever to free movement of pedestrians," the order passed by the Court said. .The Court, therefore, deemed it appropriate to suo motu implead the Additional Chief Secretary, Home Department; the Additional Chief Secretary, Local Self Government Department; and also the Transport Commissioner, Kerala, as additional respondents to the petition. The Court directed the Government Pleader to ensure that the State government submits an affidavit detailing the steps it has taken so far with regard to the issues flagged in the petition. The case will be heard again on July 9, 2021.