Ramlila Maidan, the alternative site earmarked for dissent in the capital, has seen just eight rallies or protests since the National Green Tribunal (NGT) ordered that no dharnas can be held at Jantar Mantar. As per data given by the North Delhi Municipal Corporation, the site has been booked just eight times from October — when the NGT had stopped protests at Jantar Mantar — till February 14.
The organisations that held rallies at Ramlila Maidan include the Swaraj India, the All Bodo Students’ Union, the Karbi Anglong Autonomous State Demand Committee, the All India Confederation of SC/ST organisations, the National Association of Street Vendors of India, the Nikhil Bharat Bengali Youth and Students’ Federation, the Bharatiya Gau Kranti Manch, and the National President Employee Pension Coordination Committee.
Swaraj India president Anupam, who was part of one such protest at Ramlila Maidan, said, “Delhi has no protest site. It’s tough for organisations to pay Rs 55,000 to book the ground… But protesting at Parliament Street is not simple — unless there’s a huge gathering, police will remove you.”
Civic body officials said one has to pay Rs 50,000 to book Ramlila Maidan and Rs 5,000 as security deposit. “Jantar Mantar was close to the power centre. Even if you are not being heard, you can vent. It was a safety valve for democracy. But now there’s no site because the government doesn’t want people to raise their voice,” Anupam said.
While anyone could hold a protest at Jantar Mantar, to sit in Ramlila one needs a no-objection certificate from the Delhi Police and the civic body.
A senior police officer said that protests and dharnas are not allowed at Parliament Street and if people gather, they are requested to head to Ramlila Maidan. “Sometimes we don’t remove them immediately, but that doesn’t mean protests are allowed there,” the officer said.