Updated: February 10, 2020 1:28:13 pm
Expressing concern over the continued blockade of Shaheen Bagh-Kalinidi Kunj stretch by anti-CAA protesters, the Supreme Court on Monday said the roads cannot be blocked indefinitely. The court said that the people are entitled to protest but should do so in an area designated for agitation and not cause inconvenience to others. Issuing notice to Centre, Delhi Government and police, the court fixed the matter for hearing next on February 17.
“There is a law and people have a grievance against it. The matter is pending in court. Despite that, some people are protesting. They are entitled to protest,” a bench comprising justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph said.
A counsel for Bhim Army Chief Chandrasekhar Azad said it was a question of balancing rights. But the bench rejected the contention and said protest can’t be at at the cost of citizen’s interests. “Protests can’t be anywhere someone wants..you can’t do that even in a park…Protests can happen only in an identified area,” said Justice S K Kaul. Adding to that Justice K M Joseph asked, “Can you block public roads?”
The apex court also took cognisance of a letter by a 12-yr-old National bravery award winner following the death of a 4-month-old infant allegedly due to exposure to cold as he was taken to the venue of the anti-CAA protests in Shaheen Bagh. The court issued a notice on the suo-motu plea to “stop the involvement of children and infants in demonstrations”.
A counsel appearing on behalf of some mothers from Shaheen Bagh said as per UN convention ratified by India, children have a right to protest. To this, CJI SA Bobde asked “a four-month-old went for protest? How can mothers support this!”
The pleas, filed by Advocate Amit Sahni and BJP leader Nand Kishore Garg, were deferred till February 10 in view of the Delhi Assembly elections on February 8. The pleas cite difficulties to local residents, businesses and commuters due to the closure of Road No 13A between Mathura Road and Kalindi Kunj by police due to the sit-in protest at Shaheen Bagh, which has been going on for over 50 days now.
In his appeal, Advocate Sahni sought to know “whether the protesters have unrestricted rights under Article 19 of the Constitution of India to protest on a busy road in violation of other persons’ right to have a thoroughfare, and whether such protests can be permitted to continue especially when a particular road is blocked for over a month”.
“There is no quarrel with the proposition that everyone has a right to protest but the same is subject to reasonable restrictions, which can be imposed looking into the larger public interest,” his petition read.
“The public at large is facing huge inconvenience/hardship as the said road is blocked since 15-12-2019 and the residents, shopkeepers, children and patients are facing extreme difficulties,” it added.
Garg’s petition, on the other hand, said the law enforcement machinery has been “held hostage to the whims and fancies of the protesters” and sought the apex court’s intervention to formulate guidelines for protests in public places.
On January 14, the Delhi High Court refused to pass any order and directed the police to keep in mind the larger public interest as well as maintenance of law and order.
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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