Protesters can’t block roads or public spaces, rules SupremeCourt

Protesters can’t block roads or public spaces, rules SupremeCourt

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that authorities, in future, shouldn’t permit Shaheen Bagh-type protests involving blocking of roads and public spaces, and said that such expressions of dissent should be organized at designated places without causing inconvenience to the general public at large.

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Striking a balance between the democratic right to protest and thus the necessity to spare people the inconvenience resulting from blockades, a bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Aniruddha Bose, and Krishna Murari said staging protests could even be a constitutional right and emphasized that a haul being sub-judice couldn’t be a deterrent for agitation on an equivalent. It said the pendency of petitions challenging the CAA before the apex court wouldn’t deduct the proper of citizens to protest against its enactment.

However, it also stressed that blockade of public spaces and roads, popular means of protests against colonial rulers, can’t be resorted to during a self-ruled democracy because the Constitution while conferring certain rights, has also obligated everyone to perform fundamental duties.

“Democracy and dissent go hand-in-hand, on the other hand, demonstrations expressing dissent need to be in designated places alone. this case wasn’t even one among the protests happening in an undesignated area but was the blockade of a public way which caused grave inconvenience to commuters. We cannot accept the plea of the applicants that an indeterminable number of individuals can assemble whenever they wish to protest,” it said.

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Writing the judgment for the bench, Justice Kaul said, “Such quiet occupation of public ways, whether at things in question or anywhere else, for protests, isn’t acceptable and thus the administration need to take action to stay areas beyond encroachments or obstructions… We hope such a situation doesn’t arise within the long run and protests are subject to legal position as enunciated above, with some sympathy and dialogue, but aren’t permitted to urge out of hand.”

Referring to the blockade of a highway near Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh by anti-CAA protesters for months, the bench said while the hand of God within the character of the COVID pandemic led to the dispersal of the protesters, the authorities should act promptly within the long run.

The blockade of Kalindi Kunj stretch of a busy road continued from December 15 to March 24 when cops got things cleared following the outbreak. Quoting Pulitzer lottery winner Walter Lippmann’s words — “In a democracy, the opposition isn’t only tolerated as constitutional, but must be maintained because it’s indispensable” — the bench said it respects the proper to peaceful protest of citizens against the legislation, but made it clear that “public ways and spaces can’t be occupied in such a fashion which too indefinitely”.

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The bench observed, “We sleep within the age of technology where the social movements have swiftly integrated digital connectivity into their carpenter’s kit , be it for organizing, publicity or effective communication.”

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