Right to Protest

#GS2 #Constitution #FundamentalRights #SupremeCourt

The Supreme Court ruled on October 7, 2020 that authorities should not permit Shaheen Bagh-type protests involving blocking of roads and public spaces and said that demonstrations expressing dissent should be organised at designated places alone without causing inconvenience to the public at large.

  • The Supreme Court observed that the right to peaceful protest against legislation exists but there is a need to strike a balance between the democratic right to protest and the need to spare people from the inconvenience caused by such blockades. The ruling was delivered by a bench of Justices comprising Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Aniruddha Bose and Krishna Murari.
  • The bench stated that staging protests are a constitutional right and the pendency of the trial could not be a deterrent for agitation on the same. The court added saying that the fundamental right of every citizen to assemble peacefully and protest against the actions or inactions of the State must be respected and encouraged by the State.
  • However, the bench further observed that the manner of dissent against colonial rule cannot be equated with expressing dissent in a self-ruled democracy as the Constitution while conferring certain rights, has also obligated everyone to perform fundamental duties.

 

SC's Judgement

Democracy and dissent go hand-in-hand

  • The Supreme Court ruled that democracy and dissent go hand-in-hand, but then demonstrations expressing dissent have to be in designated places alone. 
  • The bench stated that the present case was not even one of the protests taking place in an undesignated area, but was a blockade of a public way that caused grave inconvenience to the commuters.

 

Protestors can't block Public ways

  • The bench further stated that it cannot accept the plea of the applicants that an indeterminable number of people can assemble whenever they choose to protest.
  • While writing the judgment on behalf of the bench, Justice Kaul said that such kind of occupation of public ways, whether at the site in question or anywhere else for protests is not acceptable and the administration has to take action to keep areas clear of such obstructions.
  • The bench further stated that it hopes that such a situation does not arise in the future and protests are conducted with some sympathy and dialogue and not allowed to get out of hand.

 

Authorities should act promptly to disperse Shaheen Bagh-type protests

  • The SC bench, while referring to the months-long blockade of an arterial road near Delhi's Shaheen Bagh by anti-CAA protesters, said that though the COVID pandemic led to the dispersal of the protesters, the authorities should be more prompt in the future. 
  • The busy Kalindi Kunj road was blocked from December 15 to March 24 by anti-CAA protestors. The cops finally managed to get the site cleared on March 24 following the outbreak of COVID-19. The bench stated that while it respects the right to peaceful protest of citizens against legislation, but made it clear that “public ways and spaces cannot be occupied in such a manner and that too indefinitely”.
  • The bench finally observed that we live in the age of technology where the social movements have swiftly integrated digital connectivity into their tool kit, be it for organising, publicity or effective communication.

 

The Petition 

  • The court was hearing the appeal filed by Advocate Amit Sahni seeking to remove the anti-CAA protestors at Shaheen Bagh, alleging that the protests were blocking the roads and affecting the right of free movement of the public. 
  • Though the protesters had vacated the site in March with the COVID-19 outbreak, the court proceeded to hear the matter on the larger issue of balancing the right to protest with the people's right to free movement. 

 

Shaheen Bagh vacated amid COVID-19 pandemic

  • Though with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the protest site was ultimately cleared, the petitioners refused to withdraw their appeals stating that there are some aspects regarding the protest that are crucial and need to be looked into. 
  • The bench also noted that the petitions had become infructuous due to the supervening circumstances as Shaheen Bagh protesters vacated the road due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic but added that the larger issue has to be examined.

 

Background

  • In January 2020, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph had issued a notice on petitions seeking the clearance of anti-CAA protestors at Shaheen Bagh in Delhi. The bench had stated then that there cannot be indefinite protests in a common area. "If everybody starts protesting everywhere, what will happen?" the bench had remarked.
  • In February, the apex court had appointed a mediation team comprising Senior Advocate Sanjay Hegde and advocate Sadhana Ramachandran to hold talks with the protesters and persuade them to shift but their efforts were not successful.
  • Shaheen Bagh protests mostly involved women who took to the road in opposition against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR). The protests, which started on December 15, 2019 went on four almost four months till the COVID-19 pandemic forced the protestors to vacate the area. 

 

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