Right to protest not an absolute right

#GS2 #Constitution #Judiciary #FundamentalRights

 

The Supreme Court on September 21, 2020 observed that the right to protest is not an absolute right and it comes with certain restrictions. The court stated that while there is no dispute that citizens have the right to protest, a balance has to be maintained between the right to protest and the right to mobility for others. 

  • The Supreme Court submitted its observations while disposing of a batch of petitions seeking the court's urgent direction for immediate dispersal of protestors from Shaheen Bagh in Delhi or any other such sites amid the pandemic situation. One of the pleas filed in March had stated that despite Delhi Government restrict the gathering of more than 50 people till March 31st, the protestors did not vacate the premises. 
  • The plea stated that the protesters had no right to endanger the lives of thousands of innocent people in the name of exercising their fundamental right to protest.
  • The Supreme Court bench led by Justice SK Kaul, after hearing all the arguments, reserved its judgment on the aspect of "the need to balance the right to protest with the right of mobility by other people." The apex court stated that it will pass a short order on the case to deal with future situations when roads are used for protests. 

 

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.

 

Right to Protest has to be balanced with Right to free movement: SC

  • The apex court observed that it is not disputing the right to protest but it has to be balanced with people's right to free movement. It added saying that for a long time, the public road was blocked and people were denied movement on the road. 
  • The top court stated that the key issue is where and how and how long such protests can go on, and what about the right to use the road. 

 

There cannot be a universal policy on right to protest: SC

  • Upon receiving a suggestion for forming a universal standard policy on Right to Protest, the Supreme Court stated that there cannot be a universal policy. The court added that in a parliamentary democracy like India, there is an avenue of debate, the only issue is in what manner and where .. and for how long and how to balance it.

 

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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