Supreme Court, in anti-CAA blockade case, says there can't be universal policy on right to protest

While listening to a batch of petitions against the anti-CAA protests in December, the top court said that the right to protest has to be balanced against acts like blocking of roads and the situation may vary from case to case.

FP Staff September 21, 2020 20:11:56 IST
Supreme Court, in anti-CAA blockade case, says there can't be universal policy on right to protest

File image of Supreme Court of India. Reuters

The Supreme Court on Monday said there cannot be a "universal policy" on right to protest and possible curbs as the situation may vary from case to case.

The apex court made the observation while reserving its verdict on a batch of pleas against the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests which led to blocking of a road in Shaheen Bagh in the National Capital last December.

A bench consisting of justices SK Kaul, Aniruddha Bose, and Krishna Murari stated that the right to protest has to be balanced against other public rights such as the right to mobility.

Restrictions had been imposed on the Kalindi Kunj-Shaheen Bagh stretch and the Okhla underpass, which were closed on 15 December due to the protests against the CAA and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

The protest site was however cleared in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"There were some supervening circumstances which came into play and it was no one's hand. God almighty itself intervened," PTI quoted the court as saying.

According to Bar&Bench, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said suggested that the petitions may not survive in light of the developments in the case, however, none of the petitioners, barring one agreed to withdraw their pleas.

One of the petitioners, Amit Sahni, said that these kind of protests should not be allowed in larger public interest.

"This was allowed to have continued for more than 100 days and people faced difficulty. This kind of incident should not have happened. Yesterday, there was 'Chakka Jam' in Haryana. They have also called 'Bharat Bandh' on 24 and 25 September," he said.

Advocate Mehmood Pracha, appearing for an intervenor, said that there was a right to peaceful protest and "some people from a political party went there and created riots".

"We have the right to protest. State machinery is not sacrosanct. Members of a political party went there with the police and created the situation," PTI quoted him as saying.

Justice Bose said that the right to protest had to be balanced with the right of people to use a public road. "For a long period of time, a public road was blocked. What about this right to use the road?", LiveLaw quoted Bose as saying.

When Pracha suggested that universal guidelines could be laid down for protests, the bench said: "We have to balance right to protest and the blocking of roads. We have to deal with the issue. There cannot be a universal policy as the situation may vary on a case-to-case basis."

"In a parliamentary democracy, protest can happen in Parliament and on roads but it has to be peaceful," it added

Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said that the right to protest cannot be absolute and there are some judgements to this effect.

Reserving its verdict, the bench said that it had appointed "interlocutors" in the Shaheen Bagh case as an experiment and they had suggested some measures which can be looked into.

The top court had earlier heard the pleas, filed by Sahni, former BJP MLA Nand Kishore Garg and Ashutosh Dubey, against the anti-CAA protests at Shaheen Bagh.

Sahni had earlier approached the high court seeking directions to Delhi Police to ensure smooth traffic flow on the Kalindi Kunj-Shaheen Bagh stretch, which was blocked by anti-CAA protesters on 15 December. The high court had urged local authorities to deal with the situation, keeping in mind the law and order situation.

Sahni has filed a special leave petition in the apex court against the high court's order. The plea sought directions to the police to ensure smooth flow of traffic on the Kalindi Kunj-Shaheen Bagh stretch.

It also sought supervision of the situation in Shaheen Bagh, where several women were sitting in protest, by a retired Supreme Court judge or a sitting judge of the Delhi High Court in order to avoid any violence.

Separately, Garg, through his counsel Shashank Deo Sudhi, had filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking directions to authorities to remove the protestors from Shaheen Bagh.

Garg's plea claimed that various other arterial roads of Delhi have been facing traffic congestion due to the protest at Shaheen Bagh.

Alleging that the law enforcement machinery has been "held hostage to the whims and fancies of the protesters," the plea sought laying down of guidelines for protests which led to obstruction of public places.

"It is disappointing that the State machinery is muted and is a silent spectator to hooliganism and vandalism of the protesters, who are threatening the existential efficacy of the democracy and the rule of law and had already taken the law and order situation in their own hand," the plea said.

The State has a duty to protect the fundamental rights of its citizens, who have been facing trouble due to the road blockade, the plea further said.

"Hence, it is urgently required that public places must not be allowed to be abused and misused for ulterior and mala fide purposes such as staging a protest against a constitutional amendment in the heart of the capital city and thereby causing incalculable hardships and difficulties to the common people," it said.

According to LiveLaw, the petition filed by Dubey, however, stated that the protests could continue after the threat posed by the coronavirus pandemic was over.

With inputs from PTI

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