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Protests OK even on matters before court, but roads can’t be blocked: Supreme Court

Hearing the petition earlier this month, the SC had issued notice to leaders of 43 farmers’ unions after the Haryana government urged it to make them parties in the matter.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi |
Updated: October 22, 2021 12:39:52 am
The court was hearing a petition filed by a resident of Noida urging that the protesters be removed from the roads around the national capital region. (File Photo)

The Supreme Court on Thursday observed that it was not against people’s right to protest even on matters that are sub judice, but made it clear that such protesters cannot block public roads indefinitely.

“Ultimately some solution has to be found. We are not against the right to protest even when legal challenge is pending. (But) roads cannot be blocked like this,” Justice S K Kaul, heading a two-judge bench also comprising Justice M M Sundresh, said.

The bench was hearing a plea by Noida resident Monicca Agarwaal who highlighted problems faced by commuters on account of the ongoing protests against the farm laws, and sought the protesters’ removal from the Delhi border.

On October 4, another two-judge bench of the court, while hearing a plea by a farmers’ outfit to hold protests at Jantar Mantar, had said it would examine whether someone who has already approached a constitutional court seeking remedy has an absolute right to simultaneously protest on the streets on the same issue while the legal challenge is pending.

At Ghazipur border. (Express Photo by Amit Mehra)

Agarwaal in her plea said earlier orders of the court, that public roads could not be blocked indefinitely, were not being followed — and it had become a nightmare for her, a single mother with medical issues, to travel from Noida to Delhi on work.

Hearing the petition earlier this month, the SC had issued notice to leaders of 43 farmers’ unions after the Haryana government urged it to make them parties in the matter.

On Thursday, Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave appearing for some of the farmers’ unions, told the court that it wasn’t the farmers but the police who were blocking the roads. He added that the blockades were happening as the farmers were being denied permission to hold protests at the Ramlila grounds.

Barricades put up by Delhi Police at Ghazipur border. (Express Photo by Amit Mehra)

“Roads aren’t blocked by us. They are blocked thanks to the police. After stopping us, BJP had a rally at Ramlila Maidan. Why be selective?” Dave said.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the reasons for denial of permission were serious, apparently referring to the violence during a rally by farmers on Republic Day.

Dave retorted that “independent investigation will show that a serious issue was engineered”. He added that those involved in the incidents at Red Fort had been given bail.

Mehta said “there is an oblique purpose” behind whatever was happening. Dave responded: “Like there was while passing the farm laws. He can’t put allegations on bona fides of farmers.”

Meanwhile, counsel for petitioner said he was representing the citizens of the country who were suffering due to the road blockade.

The bench responded: “The law is clear. You may have a right to agitate in any manner but roads should not be blocked.”

Dave said many petitions challenging the farm laws remained pending, and the current matter should be sent to a three-judge bench.

Mehta termed this as “kind of browbeating”, and said it should not be allowed. He added: “For some people Ramlila Maidan should be made the residence. They survive on Ramlila Maidan and Jantar Mantar.”

The court said it would decide the contours of the matter, and then take a call on whether it needed to be referred to a larger bench. It gave the farmers’ unions three weeks to reply to the petition, and fixed the matter for hearing after six weeks.

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