Bengal govt cites Shaheen Bagh ruling, Covid to stop BJP’s ‘Nabanna March’
Hours after the Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled in reference to the blockade against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) at south Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh that right to protest in public places is not absolute and public places cannot be occupied indefinitely, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) government cited the same order to dissuade the youth wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from holding a mega protest outside Nabanna, the state secretariat in Howrah district, on Thursday.
The Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), the youth wing of the BJP, has organised the ‘Nabanna Chalo’ (march to Nabanna) programme to raise its voice on issues ranging from an alleged lack of employment opportunities in Bengal to law and order problems. Top BJP and BJYM leaders are to lead four processions from different locations in Kolkata and Howrah to Nabanna on Thursday. The BJYM informed the government that each of these rallies will have around 25,000 youths.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court highlighted the troubles faced by the general public due to the road blockade at Shaheen Bagh by protestors who were opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and ruled that dissent and democracy go hand in hand but protests must be carried out in designated areas.
The Shaheen Bagh blockade started in December 2019 and continued till March 2020. TMC chief Mamata Banerjee supported the movement and she still opposes the new citizenship law and the National Population Register (NPR) in public, saying these will trigger social and religious discrimination. A Shaheen Bagh-like agitation was held in Kolkata as well earlier this year.
The SC order also asked authorities to ensure that public places were free of occupation by protestors. “Occupation of public places for protests is not acceptable. Authorities must ensure removal of occupation of public places,” the bench held on Wednesday.
However, the manner in which occupants should be removed to clear public places is to be decided by government authorities and they should not hide behind or wait for court orders in order to carry out their functions, the court added.
Hours later, the West Bengal home department, while replying to a letter from the state BJYM, cited the same ruling, saying it was duty-bound to follow it.
“You are probably aware that, only a few hours back, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has given a judgement in Civil Appeal No 3282/2020 wherein the Hon’ble Apex Court has held certain principles regarding protest and occupation of sites and public places and public ways. You will kindly appreciate that we are duty-bound to comply with the solemn order of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India,” said the letter sent by the special secretary of the home department to the BJYM. HT has seen the letter.
In a parallel development, the state government declared that all offices in Nabanna will remain closed for two days so that they can be sanitised.
In its bid to discourage BJYM’s ‘Nabanna March’, the state home department also cited the prohibition on large political gathering as per the latest Central guidelines issued to contain the spread of Covid-19 pandemic.
“You are also probably aware that the Government of India, on the strength of the National Disaster Management Act, has issued guidelines banning gatherings and political rallies having more than 100 people in view of the current Covid-19 pandemic. It seems that your protest march is in clear violation of this disaster guideline of the Government of India. Indeed, you have categorically mentioned that each of your rallies will have around 25,000 youths,” said the home department’s letter.
“You are probably also aware that Section 144 CrPC is in force in and around Nabanna,” said the letter, adding that the government would help the BJYM hold peaceful and democratic rallies at places where prohibitory orders under Section 144 are not violated.
Reacting to Wednesday’s order of the Supreme Court on the Shaheen Bagh blockade, Bengal’s deputy health minister Chandrima Bhattacharya said, “The order is applicable to the BJP which blocks roads and holds agitations, causing inconvenience to people.”
BJYM leaders said that no matter what the government said they would go ahead with the agitation as planned.
“It seems the TMC already knows that its days are numbered. That is why it is emptying Nabanna. Our programme will be held peacefully as planned,” Bengal BJP president Ghosh told the media on Wednesday evening.
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