Making a balanced observation on the Shaheen Bagh case, the Supreme Court on Monday stated that protesting is a fundamental right, but can’t block public roads.
“Right to protest is a fundamental right. What is the alternative area they can continue the protests without blocking the road?” a two-judge bench comprising justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and KM Joseph said.
To this, the Delhi Police’s lawyer replied, “They can choose a place.”
“There are lines and boundaries. You want to protest. No problem. But tomorrow another section of society may hold protests in another area… There must be some method so that traffic flow is free,” the Supreme Court said, adding “Our concern is if everyone starts blocking roads, where will people go?”
The court also pointed out that there are alternative spaces earmarked for protests such as Ramlila Maidan and Jantar Mantar. The grievance may be genuine, but roads can’t be blocked over it as it will create chaos, the court said.
“When strong views emerge, you cannot say don’t put forth your strong views. Those things don’t trouble us. The only thing troubling is blocking of a public road,” Justice Kaul added.
It also observed if the protesters could be persuaded not to block roads.
The court has appointed two advocates and a former bureaucrat as mediators to talk to the protesters, who are on a sit-in for over two months, and find a solution to the problem.
The court chose senior advocates Sanjay Hegde and Sadhna Ramchandran and former bureaucrat Wajahat Habibullah to talk to the Citizenship Amendment Act protesters blocking the 13A road that is a crucial link between Delhi and Noida, and find an alternative protest location.
The Supreme Court was hearing two petitions by lawyer Amit Sahni and BJP leader Nand Kishore Garg seeking appropriate directions to the Centre and others for removal of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protesters from Shaheen Bagh, near Kalindi Kunj.
The apex court said that it has taken upon itself to find a solution to the Shaheen Bagh issue.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court agreed to the Centre’s objection that Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad must not engage with Shaheen Bagh protesters.
Last week, Bhim Azad had requested the court to become a party in the case.
Meanwhile, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and ADG KM Nataraj have refuted claims that roads were being opened for ambulances, saying that there was complete blockage, and asserted that the only solution is the removal of the protesters.
The Supreme Court has fixed the matter for further hearing on Monday, 24th February.
Last week, making a significant observation on Shaheen Bagh, the top court had said there that “cannot be indefinite protests” and “agitations cannot continue like this on public places”.
The court also observed that protests cannot be carried out at the cost of citizens’ interest.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court had begun hearing a petition seeking directions to the police to take action to ensure smooth traffic movement on the Kalindi Kunj-Shaheen Bagh stretch, which has been closed for over two months due to the CAA protests, making the public at large suffer.
The plea moved by lawyer-activist Amit Sahni on January 20 sought supervision of the situation in Shaheen Bagh where several women are sitting on an indefinite protest, by a retired Supreme Court judge or a sitting judge of the Delhi High Court to avoid any further deterioration in the situation and to circumvent any violence.
BJP leader Nand Kishor Garg had also sought a direction from the top court to the Centre, police and state government to take immediate steps to remove protesters from Shaheen Bagh who have been protesting for more than a month against the Citizenship Amendment Act by blocking the road connecting Delhi to Noida.