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Shaheen Bagh Protest: SC Says Public Places Cannot Be Occupied Indefinitely

The top court observed that dissent and democracy go "hand in hand" but said protests must be carried out only in designated areas.
Shaheen Bagh on Republic Day. Photo: Raghu Karnad/The Wire

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that public places cannot be occupied indefinitely, in a petition that sought the Shaheen Bagh protest in New Delhi against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) to be moved to a designated location.

According to LiveLaw, a bench of Justices S.K. Kaul, Aniruddha Bose and Krishna Murari observed, “Dissent and democracy go hand in hand but protests must be carried out in designated area.”

The top court had reserved its judgment in the matter on September 21, to deliberate on “the need to balance the right to protest with the right of mobility by other people”.

Advocate Amit Sahni had filed the petition in January, saying that by blocking the road, the protesters were hindering the right of free movement of the public.

During the hearing, Justice Kaul remarked: “There cannot be a universal policy. In a parliamentary democracy, there is an avenue of debate. The only issue is in what manner and where .. and for how long and how to balance it.”

Justice Bose said that the right to protest has to be “balanced with the right of the people to use a public road”, according to LiveLaw.

Justice Kaul also said that social media channels are often “fraught with danger” and lead to a highly polarising environment. “This is what was witnessed in Shaheen Bagh. Started out as a protest and caused inconvenience to commuters,” he said.

He said the administration should take action to keep the roads clear of ‘encroachments and obstructions’ and shouldn’t hide behind the courts.

The Shaheen Bagh protests were primarily led by Muslim women and opposed the CAA and the proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC). It inspired a series of sit-ins across the country against the twin policy decisions which many believe will disenfranchise Indian Muslims.

In February, the Supreme Court observed that there cannot be “indefinite protests in a common area”.

While the protesters had blocked a stretch of GD Birla Marg, a road that connects Delhi to Noida in Uttar Pradesh, a Scroll report showed that the Delhi and Uttar Pradesh police had barricaded two alternative routes that could have been used by commuters. The police could not explain the blockade, merely citing ‘security reasons’.

The protesters vacated the site in March, when cases of COVID-19 began rising. However, the top court continued to hear the matter to weigh in on the ‘larger issue’ of balancing the right to protest with the right to free movement of people.

On March 24, the Delhi police removed the structures at the protest site after 101 days of sit-in protest.

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