The Supreme Court Monday ruled against a total ban on protests in the Jantar Mantar and Boat Club area, subject to regulations regarding the manner in which they are organised and the number of people attending the protests.
A bench of Justice A K Sikri and Justice Ashok Bhushan said that “the right to protest is recognised as a fundamental right under the Constitution”, and “this right is crucial in a democracy which rests on participation of an informed citizenry in governance”. However, it added that “nobody can claim that I have a right to hold demonstration at one particular area only”.
The bench has given the Delhi Police Commissioner two months to frame guidelines for allowing demonstrations at these places. The court also observed the disturbance that protests cause to residents residing near Jantar Mantar.
“Having regard to the aforesaid discussion, we direct the Commissioner of Police, New Delhi, in consultation with other agencies, to devise a proper mechanism for limited use of the area for such purposes but to ensure that demonstrations, etc are regulated in such a manner that these do not cause any disturbance to residents of Jantar Mantar road or the offices situated there. Detailed guidelines in this respect can be formulated. We may also clarify that a provision can be made for taking requisite prior permission from the Police Commissioner (or his delegated authority) for holding such demonstration by a particular group, and while examining such proposals, the parameters can be laid down which shall be looked into in order to decide whether the permission is to
be granted or not,” the bench directed.
The judgment came on a petition by NGO Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan challenging the “repeated imposition” of Section 144 CrPC to curb protests in central Delhi. It had appealed against the NGT order of “immediate ban” on protests in the Jantar Mantar area.
The NGT order had come on applications filed by residents of the area, who highlighted problems they faced because of the protests there.
On demonstrations at the Boat Club area, the bench said, “There can, therefore, be proper guidelines laying down the parameters under which permission can be granted here too”.
“It (Boat Club area) can be of restrictive and limited use, because of the sensitivities pointed out by respondents… also because Ramlila Maidan is available and Jantar Mantar Road shall be made available in a regulated manner in a couple of months,” the court said.
The proposed guidelines, the bench said, “may include the provisions for regulating the numbers of persons intending to participate in such demonstrations; prescribing the minimum distance from the Parliament House, North and South Blocks, Supreme Court, residences of dignitaries etc within which no such demonstrations would be allowed; imposing restrictions on certain routes where normally the Prime Minister, central ministers, judges, etc pass through; not permitting any demonstrations when foreign dignitaries are visiting a particular place or pass through the particular route; not allowing firearms, lathis, spears, swords, etc; not allowing them to bring animals or pitch tents or stay overnight; prescribing time limits for such demonstrations; and placing restrictions on such demonstrations, etc during peak traffic hours”.
The court said authorities can begin by permitting processions and innocuous demonstrations such as school children pressing for a social cause or a candle march by a peace loving group.
“These are some of the examples given by us to signify that such demonstrations can be effectively regulated by adopting various measures instead of banning them altogether by rejecting every request for such demonstrations”, the court said, asking the Commissioner of Police to come out with requisite guidelines for the Boat Club area within two months.