Acknowledging that people have a fundamental right to protest, the Supreme Court Monday appointed two advocates as interlocutors with the mandate to persuade anti-CAA protesters at Shaheen Bagh in Delhi to end their blockade of a public road. The court will hear the matter next on February 24.
The bench of Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph said one set of people taking to public roads to air their grievance can inspire others to follow suit and this will ultimately lead to chaos. Democracy, the judges said, is about expression of views but “there are lines and boundaries” for it.
“Certain section of society is aggrieved by a legislation which is being tested in this court. We are not saying that despite pendency of matter, people will not have the right to air their grievance or protest. Question arising is where to protest… Whether traffic can be managed better here or there is not the question. It cannot be a place like this. If today some people, tomorrow some other people may do it. Different portions of city can be blocked by people who may have their grievance…. If everyone starts coming on road, you know Delhi…It will lead to chaos,” Justice Kaul said.
Hearing two PILs — one by Advocate Amit Sahni and another by Delhi BJP leader Nand Kishore Garg — which highlighted difficulties on account of protesters occupying a road in Shaheen Bagh, the bench said the way out could be for someone to try and convince the agitators to move out, may be to an identified location. It asked Delhi Police to suggest alternatives.
The court deputed senior advocate Sanjay Hedge and advocate Sadhana Ramachandran to talk to the Shaheen Bagh protesters and convince them to shift. Appearing for Delhi Police, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the message should not go out that all institutions are on their knees and are requesting the protesters to move.
The bench said if nothing works out, “we will leave it to authorities. We are hopeful that some reason will prevail”.
A lawyer appearing for Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad and former Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah who wanted to intervene in the matter said there is more to the matter than meets the eye. She said the traffic congestion is because police had closed a parallel road.
At this, Justice Kaul said “my concern is not a better traffic route. If everybody starts blocking roads and entering public spaces, may be for genuine causes, where does it end?… You have made your point of view. We are not saying you stop making your point of view, But this kind of protest happening on a public street?”
“Democracy works on expressing views but there are lines and boundaries for it,” Justice Kaul said, adding there must be a balancing factor or it can get chaotic. “Someone may get ideas. Somebody who is not on the same page today,” Justice Kaul said.
One of the petitioners then said there were plans to replicate Shaheen Bagh in 5,000 areas across the country. “We are not concerned whether 1,000 sites are created as long as long as public roads are not blocked,” Justice Kaul said.
The petitioners alleged that the Delhi Police had not done anything to remove the blockade. The bench then put the query to Mehta on why no action was taken in the last two months. “You don’t need our certificate,” said Justice Kaul said. “It is needed,” replied Mehta, adding that all kinds of allegations were being made against police. The court then asked what, according to police, was the solution. Mehta said the “solution is only remove”. He said “children and women are being used as shield”. The petitioners then sought interim directions.
Justice Joseph said, “We have decided to examine. Let us give them some time.” He said people had a fundamental right to protest and it was necessary to allow people to protest. Intervening, Mehta urged Justice Joseph not to say that protests were better than judicial review. Justice Kaul said there was no absolute licence in the name of protests. “We have a duty to perform. We will do it. Some may like it, some not. But we will not play to any agenda this side or that side,” Justice Kaul said.
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