It is an era of ‘professional protesters’ who like to protest outside Parliament or the President or the Prime Minister’s house to make their voices heard, the Centre on Tuesday told the Supreme Court, stressing that holistic steps are necessary to ensure peace and harmony. The Centre was justifying the imposition of prohibitory orders under section 144 of CrPC in Central Delhi which houses most of the government buildings and VIP residences, after a PIL opposed continuous imposition of prohibitory orders, saying it obstructed the fundamental right to protest.
A bench of Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan, which is hearing a plea filed by an NGO challenging the ban of all assemblies and protests in Central and the New Delhi area, was told by the Centre that there were some instances in the past, when during the protests, law and order situation has arisen.
“We are in an era where there are some professional protestors who like to protest outside the apex court, Parliament, President’s house or Prime Minister’s house. They don’t like any other alternative place for protests. Many a times, during the protests there is a serious law and order situation. As a government, we need to take holistic steps,” Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan, said there cannot be continuous imposition of prohibitory orders under section 144 of CrPC in entire Central Delhi, which is an emergency provision to be used at the time of apprehension of violence or law and order problems.
He objected to the ASG’s comment “professional protestors” and said the government cannot ask people to go to Ramlila Maidan or Narela in west Delhi to protest, which is their fundamental right. “The government in its affidavit justifies continuous imposition of prohibitory orders in entire Central Delhi, which is a huge area. There are various Supreme Court verdicts which recognises people’s right to protest as a fundamental right. The protests are always near the place where government is seated,” Bhushan said.
Mehta intervened and said he did not mean that all protestors are “professional protestors” but some of them are certainly are. He said it is understandable of the government imposing prohibitory orders if there is a specific intelligence input or apprehension of protests by a group turning violent and creating serious breach of peace and harmony.
“We have no problem with the government imposing section 144 of CrPC, if there is specific intelligence of violence. The government has virtually declared the entire central Delhi as a prohibited area for holding any public meeting, dharna or peaceful protest by people who want their voices to be heard,” Bhushan said. Mehta, sarcastically, commented that it was high time that the apex court should “elevate the fundamental right to protest to right to livelihood.”
The Centre in its affidavit has justified imposition of prohibitory orders citing over a dozen incidents of the past during which protests have turned violent and the police had to use tear gas and water cannon to control the mob. The bench posted the matter for further hearing for April 27.
The apex court had earlier said it needed to take a holistic view of protecting the fundamental rights of citizens to protest, as well as protection of environment and rights of commuters, while earmarking space for agitations in Delhi. It had asked the Centre to file a comprehensive response in the matter.
On December 4 last year, the apex court had said proper guidelines should be framed on the issue of right to protest so as to ensure a balance between the fundamental right of the citizens to protest and maintenance of law and order. The plea of the NGO had said continuous imposition of prohibitory orders was an “arbitrary and unreasonable restriction” on the fundamental rights of citizens to hold peaceful protest. The petition, has sought directions to formulate guidelines for holding public meetings, dharnas, peaceful demonstrations in parts of New Delhi.
“As per sub-section 4 of Section 144 CrPC, an order can be issued for a maximum period of two months. Therefore, the Delhi Police has adopted the tactic of issuing the same order repeatedly,” the plea said. It also sought to quash several orders passed by police from January to October last year by which the entire Central or New Delhi areas were declared prohibited areas.
The National Green Tribunal had on October 5 last year banned all protests at Jantar Mantar near Connaught Place on the ground that it created nuisance for the local residents and violated environment protection statutes. The plea before the apex court has said that “with the NGT order banning protests at Jantar Mantar, it is evident that distancing a protest site from where it is most visible to the government and concerned authorities, will have the effect of diluting the impact that the protest seeks to gain.
“Besides the cost of using Ramlila Maidan for protests is Rs 50,000 per day which would make protests at the site practically impossible for the common citizens,” it said.
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