Supreme Court judgment on scope of right to protest in public places tomorrow
The Supreme Court will pronounce its judgment on Wednesday regarding the scope of right to protest in public places and whether or not there can be limitations to such right.
The verdict will be delivered by a 3-judge bench headed by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul in a batch of petitions concerning road blockade at Shaheen Bagh in Delhi by protestors who were opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
While the issue concerning Shaheen Bagh itself was rendered infructuous (pointless) since the protests ended after the Covid-19 pandemic broke out and lockdown was imposed, the court heard the parties on the larger issue of right to protest in public places and to what extent it can be regulated and balanced with the right of general public to move without hindrance.
“The right to protest should be balanced with the right to movement of public. In a parliamentary democracy, there is a right to protest. But can a public road be blocked for a long time? When and where can protests be held? We will think about how it can be balanced,” the bench which also comprised Justices Aniruddha Bose and Krishna Murari had remarked during the hearing of the case on September 21.
The petition before the Supreme Court was filed by advocate Amit Sahni in February seeking the lifting of the road blockade in the Shaheen Bagh–Kalindi Kunj stretch.
The protestors at Shaheen Bagh were opposing the CAA, which was passed on December 12, 2019. The CAA amended Section 2 of the Citizenship Act, 1955 in a manner which made any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian communities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan eligible to apply for Indian citizenship by naturalization even if they were illegal migrants.
However, the Muslim community did not find a place in the amendment thereby excluding Muslim illegal migrants from availing the opportunity to apply for Indian citizenship, a benefit which was extended to illegal migrants from the other six communities by this amendment. The exclusion of Muslim triggered widespread protests across the country, as did the linking of citizenship with religion.
Shaheen Bagh was the epicenter of such protests in the national capital. The protests at Shaheen Bagh started on December 15, 2019 and continued for more than 3 months.
The Supreme Court had tasked senior advocate Sanjay Hegde and advocate Sadhana Ramachandran, on February 17, to mediate with the protestors and come to a constructive solution to resolve the issue but no solution could be arrived at.
Most of the protestors, however, left the site by March 23 due to the lockdown imposed in Delhi due to the Coronavirus threat.
But the stage and other structures which had been put in place during the protests were retained and a few men and women remained at the site as a symbolic continuation of the protests. Later, the police had dismantled the same.
Sahni stated that while people have the right to protest, the same is subject to reasonable restrictions and protestors cannot be allowed to occupy public roads indefinitely. He contended that the right to protest should not inconvenience the public at large.
Solicitor general Tushar Mehta representing the Central government also concurred with the petitioner stating that the right to protest cannot be absolute and is subject to reasonable restrictions.
“Every right is qualified,” Mehta had argued.