New Delhi: The Supreme Court will pronounce its judgment on Wednesday regarding scope of right to protest in public places and whether or not there can be limitations to such right.
The verdict will be delivered by a 3-judge bench headed by justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul in a batch of petitions concerning road blockade at Shaheen Bagh in Delhi by protesters who were opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
While the issue concerning Shaheen Bagh itself was rendered infructuous (pointless) since the protests ended after the Covid-19 pandemic broke out and lockdown was imposed, the court heard the parties on the larger issue of right to protests in public places and to what extent it can be regulated and balanced with the right of general public to move without hindrance.
“The right to protests should be balanced with the right to movement of public. In a parliamentary democracy, there is a right to protest. But can a public road be blocked for a long time? When and where can protests be held? We will think about how it can be balanced,” the bench which also comprised justices Aniruddha Bose and Krishna Murari had remarked during the hearing of the case on September 21.
The petition before Supreme Court was filed by advocate Amit Sahni in February, seeking removal of road blockade on Shaheen Bagh–Kalindi Kunj stretch.
The protesters at Shaheen Bagh were opposing the CAA, which was passed on December 12, 2019. The CAA amended Section 2 of the Citizenship Act, 1955 in a manner which made any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian communities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan eligible to apply for Indian citizenship by naturalisation even if they were illegal migrants.
However, the amendment excluded Muslim illegal migrants from availing the opportunity to apply for Indian citizenship, which triggered widespread protests across the country.
Shaheen Bagh was the epicentre of such protests in the national capital. The protest started on December 15, 2019 and continued for more than three months.
The Supreme Court had tasked senior advocate Sanjay Hegde and advocate Sadhana Ramachandran, on February 17, to mediate with the protesters and come to a constructive solution to resolve the issue but no solution could be arrived at.
Most of the protesters, however, left the site by March 23 due to the lockdown imposed in Delhi because of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) threat. But the stage and other structures which had been put in place during the protests were retained and a few men and women remained at the site as a symbolic continuation of the protests. Later, the police had dismantled it.
Sahni stated that while people have the right to protest, the same is subject to reasonable restrictions and protesters cannot be allowed to occupy public roads indefinitely. He contended that right to protests it should not inconvenience public at large.
Solicitor general Tushar Mehta representing the central government also concurred with the petitioner stating that right to protest cannot be absolute and is subject to reasonable restrictions.
“Every right is qualified,” Mehta had argued.
Abid Sheikh, one of the organisers at the Shaheen Bagh protest site, said, “If right to protest is scuttled or limited in anyway, it will be akin to killing democracy. It is a step closer to dictatorship. As far as protesting in public spaces is concerned, our sit-in agitation was not to trouble citizens. It was to put forward our concerns before the world. That is why we had occupied only one carriageway of Road 13A. The other routes were barricaded by authorities causing trouble to public.”