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PIL wants protests allowed in central Delhi; SC asks for Centre’s opinion

The court asked for additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta’s opinion after the petitioner said several areas in central Delhi have been earmarked as no-protest zones.

india Updated: Dec 04, 2017 21:47 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Protest,Central Delhi,PIL
Police monitor eviction of protest material following a National Green Tribunal (NGT) order to free Jantar Mantar off protesters, in New Delhi on October 30.(PTI)

The Supreme Court asked the Centre on Monday to assist it in a case filed by an NGO seeking to allow demonstrations in central Delhi, including Jantar Mantar, where protests were banned following an order by the National Green Tribunal (NGT).

A bench of justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan asked for additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta’s opinion after the petitioner said several areas in central Delhi have been earmarked as no-protest zones.

Up to the 1980s, citizens had unrestricted rights to hold dharnas, protests and agitations in the Boat Club lawns near India Gate along the Rajpath road. After the farmers’ agitation led by Mahendra Singh Tikait in 1988 that saw about five lakh people occupying the Rajpath stretch, protests there were restricted.

Later, the Jantar Mantar road became the hub of protests for citizens from across the country. The stretch has seen protests by Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP, ex-servicemen for One Rank One Pension, farmers from various parts of the country, and various other groups.

The petition before the SC does not directly challenge the NGT order that stopped all demonstrations and protest-oriented activities on the Jantar Mantar stretch, but the bench pointed out this fact and asked the petitioner’s lawyer Prashant Bhushan, whether the petition wasn’t indirectly assailing the NGT order without questioning it directly.

“We cannot take cognisance of a matter that has not been challenged,” the court said.

At this, Bhushan submitted that an appeal to the NGT order will be filed later, but the present petition raised issues that were never before the NGT.

He said the case before the court dealt with a larger issue, which is the fundamental right to protest.

He then argued that apart from Jantar Mantar, there are other areas in central Delhi where demonstrations were allowed earlier, but have gradually been restricted.

According to him the police impose section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), which prohibits a gathering of four or more persons in an area, to restrict demonstrations.

When the bench told Bhushan that the restrictions were mainly due to heavy traffic, the lawyer prayed that there can be regulation of vehicular movement. He said guidelines can be issued to regulate processions but not prohibit them completely.

The bench then asked Mehta to consider whether or not traffic in such areas can be regulated as suggested by Bhushan and told him to place his views before it within four weeks.

First Published: Dec 04, 2017 20:19 IST