Taking note of the inconvenience caused to commuters, the Supreme Court on Monday appointed an interlocutor to convince the Shaheen Bagh protesters to lift the road blockade and move it elsewhere. Several people, mostly women, have been protesting at the site against the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act for more than 50 days now.
“We are not saying that people don’t have the right to raise their concerns. The question is where to protest? Because if this continues on the roads today for this legislation, tomorrow it could be done for another legislation,” Justice Kaul said. Though protesters occupy only one side of the 800-metre road, the other side is also blocked, with only ambulances and school buses allowed to pass.
The top court also wondered if anyone could be appointed to hold talks with the protesters. “Reason must prevail on this (protesters) side also,” the court observed.
It asked senior advocate Sanjay Hegde and advocate Sadhana Ramachandran to talk to Shaheen Bagh protestors and persuade them to move to an alternative site where no public place is blocked. People have a fundamental right to protest but the thing which is troubling us is blocking of public roads, the bench said.
The top court also asked the government why no action was taken to remove protestors so far. “You don’t need our certificate,” it said. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta responded saying “it is required as all kinds of allegations are made against authorities.”
If nothing works, we will leave it to the authorities to deal with the situation, the apex court said.
In its last hearing, the apex court had said that protests must be held in “identified areas” and protesters cannot block public roads and cause inconvenience to others.
“You cannot block public roads. There cannot be an indefinite period of protest in such an area. If you want to protest, it has to be in an area identified for protest,” said a bench comprising Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph. “You cannot create inconvenience for the people,” it said.
“There’s a law enacted, and challenge to it is pending in the Court. It’s fine that some people may want to protest. The protests have gone on for many days… There must be an area where you can protest. It cannot be held wherever one wants. It has to be in an identified area… Otherwise people will go and protest anywhere,” said Justice Kaul, adding that protests cannot be held at the cost of the citizens’ interests.
The court was hearing petitions filed by Advocate Amit Sahni and Delhi BJP leader Nand Kishore Garg on the traffic disruption due to the protests.
Advocate Shashank Deo Sudhi, appearing for Garg, had then urged the court to pass an interim direction, saying people have been facing difficulties for several days now. The bench, however, declined th
e request. “If you have waited for over 50 days, you can wait for some more days,” it said.
Sahni had earlier approached the Delhi High Court, seeking directions to the Delhi Police to ensure smooth traffic flow on the Kalindi Kunj-Shaheen Bagh stretch. The HC had asked the police to look into the matter.
Garg, in his petition, said the law enforcement machinery was being “held hostage to the whims and fancies of the protesters”, and sought the court’s intervention to formulate guidelines for protests in public places.
Hundreds of people, mostly women, are currently holding a 24/7 protest at Shaheen Bagh against the Citizenship Amendment Act and a proposed nation-wide implementation of the National Register of Citizens. The protest has been underway since December 15 last year.
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