Shaheen Bagh: SC seeks lawyers’ help; says protest, but don’t blockade

The Asian Age.  | Parmod Kumar

India, All India

The right to protest is recognised the world over in democracies, especially in India.

Supreme Court of India

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday said people have a right to protest but not block public places causing inconvenience to others, as it asked senior lawyers Sanjay Hagde and Sadhana Ramachandran to talk to the anti-CAA and anti-NRC protesters at Shaheen Bagh and persuade them to shift to an alternate place.

Telling the protesters at Shaheen Bagh not to block public roads, a bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and K.M. Joseph asked solicitor-general Tushar Mehta to suggest alternate places where the protesters could shift to.

Finding the suggestion by the court soft sounding, Mr Mehta said it should not be seen as if the government was “kneeling” before them, and said the government doesn’t wish to escalate the situation — a hint of forcible eviction of the protestors who are on the 65th day of their sit-in protest.

At the outset, the court made it clear it was not against the protest, which it said was a matter of right, but it shouldn’t lead to blocking of public places and roads.

“The right to protest is recognised the world over in democracies, especially in India. It’s a fundamental right subject only to public order and security of the State,” said Justice Joseph.

Noting that the Shaheen Bagh sit-in protest was going on though a large number of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 was pending before the court, Justice Kaul said: “We are not saying because it is pending in SC... people don’t have the right to protest. The question is — where to protest? It should not be in a public place or on a road.”

The court said it feared that the city would be in utter chaos if others too with genuine grievances take a leaf from the Shaheen Bagh protest and start blocking roads and other public places. Telling the protesters that “reasoning must prevail”, Justice Kaul made it clear that if the efforts being made by them does not succeed, then it would be over to the administration.

Asking senior counsel Sanjay Hegde and Sadhana Ramachandran, a well-known mediator, to try to talk to the leadership of the Shaheen Bagh protests and make them see “reason” , the court fixed February 24 as the next date of hearing.

The court embarked on speaking to the protesters and urging them to see reason on a suggestion by a lawyer — who it later emerged was appearing for Chandrashekhar Azad, the Bhim Army chief. The solicitor-general, Mr Mehta, said Mr Azad, who was himself a cause of the problem, could not be counted on as a mediator. Then the lawyer appearing for Mr Azad suggested the name of well-known bureaucrat and first central information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah.

The court said this during the hearing of two petitions — one by Amit Sahni and another by BJP’s Nand Kishore Garg — seeking directions for the removal of protesters sitting on dharna since December 15, 2019.