Farmers at the Ghazipur protest site during the ongoing agitation against the three farm bills. The protesters are sitting on one carriageway of the Delhi-Meerut Expressway.(Sakib Ali/HT Archive)
Farmers at the Ghazipur protest site during the ongoing agitation against the three farm bills. The protesters are sitting on one carriageway of the Delhi-Meerut Expressway.(Sakib Ali/HT Archive)

Can’t continue to obstruct others, SC tells farm leaders

The bench added that it was also not sure if crowding was a good idea at a time like these when corona infections have seen a sudden spurt.
By Utkarsh Anand, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON APR 20, 2021 03:48 AM IST

The Supreme Court on Monday called upon the farm leaders to reflect on whether their protests over three contentious agricultural laws should continue to obstruct others’ right to commute freely on public roads.

A bench, headed by justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, took a grim view of the continuing road blockades by thousands of farmers who have camped at Delhi’s borders with Haryana and Uttar Pradesh since November last year in protest against the central laws, adding to commuters’ travel times in the Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR).

“Just because you are not in sync with a particular policy that doesn’t mean that the others should suffer and you obstruct their way. You want to create a village; do it by all means, but don’t obstruct others,” said the bench, which included justice Hemant Gupta.

The top court was hearing a petition by a single mother, complaining that it has been taking her almost two hours, instead of 20 minutes, to travel from Noida to Delhi due to frequent blockades and protests. The court on March 26 issued notices to the Centre and Delhi Police “to ensure that the road area is kept clear so that the passage from one place to the other is not affected”.

On Monday, solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Union government and Delhi Police, said that although the priority has been shifted due to the sudden surge in Covid cases, the authorities were trying their best to remove blockades and make the commute in Delhi-NCR smooth.

As Mehta sought adjournment of the hearing by two weeks owing to the focus on Covid management, justice Kaul retorted: “We will give you time. But we should also tell you what our concern is. People may have a right (to protest) but what concerns us is the tendency to block roads which impacts a large section of the society.”

The bench added that it was also not sure if crowding was a good idea at a time like these when corona infections have seen a sudden spurt. To this, the S-G replied that he was also of the view that protesters should not crowd.

“In other places we may not have this extent of the problem,” said justice Kaul, as the bench adjourned the hearing of the matter to May 7.

Addressing a monthly mahapanchayat at the Delhi-Ghazipur border on Saturday, Bharatiya Kisan Union national president Naresh Tikait declared that farmers will not end the protest until the farm laws are not repealed.

The central government claims that the laws are part of the long-pending reforms in the agriculture sector. The farmers’ groups led by BKU, however, complain that it will put them at the mercy of corporates, resulting into an impasse over the two sides since November last.

On April 9, too, the bench emphasised that protesters cannot block roads and continually inconvenience the public while regretting that despite several judicial pronouncements on keeping public roads free, the situation did not seem to improve.

“This is a single mother before us who has to face many problems because of blocked roads,” the court had then said, asking the S-G to resolve the issue “politically or administratively or judicially”.

Petitioner Monicca Agarwaal, who works in an information technology firm, has stated in her petition that she needs to commute between Delhi and Noida for work, but said the travel has become a “nightmare” for her.

She rued that various directions passed by the top court in several cases, including the Shaheen Bagh protest matter, to keep public roads clear, have not been followed. Her plea added that the petitioner being a single mother with medical issues was facing harrowing time on account of failure of the authorities in complying with the Supreme Court’s orders.

Even though there was no specific response to the SC observation by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, the farmer unions collective announced a “resistance week” beginning Tuesday and invited more farmers to reach the protest site with the slogan “phir Dilli chalo”.

” Because it is the harvesting season, many farmers had returned to villages. There are indications that the government is plotting to end the peasant movement on the pretext of the Covid pandemic. There have been several reports in the media that as soon as the state assembly elections are over, the Haryana government and the Centre have planned to attack the protest sites and evacuate them,” SKM said in a statement .

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