No Blanket Directions to Surrender Arms During Elections: Kerala High Court:

Kerala High Court rules against blanket surrender of arms during elections. In Jose Joseph & Ors. v. State of Kerala & Ors., court directs Screening Committee to reconsider cases of arms license holders. Crucial for fair elections.

In a recent legal development, the Kerala High Court has issued a significant observation regarding the surrender of arms during elections. The court emphasized that blanket directions to surrender arms cannot be justified unless they are deemed reasonably necessary according to the parameters outlined by the Election Commission (EC).

The court's remarks came in response to a writ petition filed by 17 individuals who were affected by the orders of the Screening Committee responsible for overseeing the surrender of arms. These individuals held licenses under the Arms Act, 1959.

Justice N. Nagaresh, presiding over a Single Bench, stated, "It is not disputed that wild animal threats are rampant in certain areas of the State during the recent past. Most of the petitioners are farmers, who want to protect their lives, property as well as agriculture, for the purpose of their livelihood." The judge highlighted the importance of considering the circumstances of individuals, especially those relying on arms for protection in vulnerable areas.

The petitioners had obtained arms licenses to safeguard their lives and property. However, ahead of the Lok Sabha Elections in 2024, they were instructed by the Station House Officer to surrender their arms to ensure peaceful and fair elections. This directive caused distress among the petitioners, who argued that they needed the arms for personal protection.

The High Court, after deliberating on the arguments presented, noted the decision of the Screening Committee to grant exemptions to certain arms license holders, particularly those employed by financial institutions. However, it pointed out a lack of consideration by the committee regarding important factors such as the petitioners' criminal history or involvement in past incidents of rioting.

Consequently, the court directed the Screening Committee to review the matter in accordance with the Arms Act, relevant rules, and guidelines issued by the Election Commission of India. It emphasized the importance of obtaining necessary inputs from the police authorities before making any decisions. Until a fresh decision is made by the committee, the court ordered that the status quo regarding the possession of arms by the petitioners should be maintained.

The High Court disposed of the writ petition, overturning the orders that rejected the exemption applications of the petitioners.