The AIADMK interim general secretary, Edappadi K. Palaniswami, registered a major legal victory on Wednesday with the Madras High Court ruling that only he, not expelled leader O. Panneerselvam, was entitled to take possession of the party headquarters in Chennai.
Justice N. Sathish Kumar quashed the proceedings initiated by the South Chennai Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO) under Sections 145(1) and 146 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.P.C.) to lock, seal and attach the party headquarters, following a violent clash between the supporters of the two leaders on July 11.
Though both leaders had challenged the RDO’s proceedings and insisted on handing over the keys to them, the judge held that Mr. Panneerselvam would not be entitled to possession of the headquarters since he was expelled from the party through a resolution passed by its general council.
After directing the RDO to hand over the possession of the office to Mr. Palaniswami, the judge ordered that the latter should not permit any party cadre or supporter inside the headquarters for a month due to the tense situation.
Criticising the RDO for having acted in a mechanical fashion without ascertaining who was in actual possession of the party office before the violence broke out, the judge wrote, “The attachment of the headquarters of the principal Opposition party in the State will strike at the very root of the democratic process and amount to oppression.”
Justice Kumar also pulled up Mr. Palaniswami and Mr. Panneerselvam for not preventing their supporters from gathering at the party office in Royappettah, when the general council meet was under way elsewhere. It shows that both of them, despite being former Chief Ministers, were not bothered about the law and order situation, he said.
The judge found the police, too, guilty of not having taken serious steps to disperse the crowd. Though the police had, in a status report before the court, claimed to have deputed personnel at the party headquarters at 6:30 a.m., by when the armed supporters of Mr. Palaniswami began gathering, the general diary (GD) of the police station stated otherwise.
According to the GD, the policemen were sent to the party office only around 8:05 a.m., after the supporters of Mr. Panneerselvam, too, began proceeding towards the party office. Thereafter, minimum force had been used to disperse the rioters who damaged several vehicles on the road, broke open the main door of the party office, and ransacked it.
“If police had acted promptly, the violence could have been avoided,” the judge said. He opined that, in all fairness, Mr. Panneerselvam ought to have avoided a visit to the party office when the atmosphere was charged and there was a plan to pass adverse resolutions against him in the general council. His visit had created a “war-like” situation, the judge added.
Holding that the resolutions passed at the party’s general council meet on July 11 would remain valid until they get overturned by a competent civil court at the instance of the aggrieved person, the judge said, the decisions taken by the majority in the general council meet would be binding on both Mr. Palaniswami and Mr. Panneerselvam.
The judge went on to state that the RDO could not attach an immovable property on mere apprehension of breach of peace, and that the officer must also show reasons for a case of emergency having arisen to take such extreme action. In the present case, the RDO’s proceedings do not disclose about the satisfaction arrived in this regard, he said.
He also said that though the police had claimed to have sent a special report to the RDO for initiating the proceedings under Sections 145(1) and 146, her report had no reference to such report.The officer had simply stated that she had perused the First Information Reports (FIRs) registered with respect to the violence.
This shows non-application of mind, the judge said. He directed the High Court Registry to return the original GD to Royapettah Inspector of Police but retain a copy of it in the case bundle. He also ordered that a thumb drive containing visuals of the violence should be preserved in a sealed cover and kept in safe custody.