Shaheen Bagh protest: Public spaces cannot be occupied indefinitely, rules Supreme Court

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October 7, 2020 1:19 PM

The Supreme Court said that it appreciates the right to peacefully protest but it can be allowed at designated places only

The sit-in protest at Shaheen Bagh against the amendments to the citizenship law cleared by Parliament began on December 15. (File photo: PTI)

Democracy and dissent go hand in hand but protests must be carried out only in the designated areas, the Supreme Court said today, ruling that occupation of public spaces, like the one witnessed during the Shaheen Bagh blockade, cannot be allowed. In its verdict on a clutch of petitions related to the Shaheen Bagh sit-in protest, a three-judge SC bench comprising Justices SK Kaul, Krishna Murari and Hrishikesh Roy pulled up the administration and the Delhi Police for failing to keep public spaces free from such obstruction.

“Public places cannot be occupied indefinitely. Dissent and democracy go hand in hand but protests must be carried out in designated area… Such kind of occupation of public place for protests is not acceptable,” the top court said. The court further observed that it is the duty of the administration to remove such road blockades and the court’s intervention was warranted by the inaction of the administration in the matter. The petitions had called for a decision on whether an indefinite period of protests in a common area that creates inconvenience for others can be allowed.

The sit-in protest at Shaheen Bagh against the amendments to the citizenship law cleared by Parliament began on December 15. It went on for over 100 days, blocking the movement of traffic on the busy intersection in Southeast Delhi. The blockade was eventually cleared by the Delhi Police on March 23 following the imposition of restrictions on the assembly of people in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We appreciate the right to peacefully protest and it can be at designated places only,” the court further observed in its verdict.

The court had on September 21 reserved its verdict at the last hearing in the matter with an observation that the right to protest needs to be balanced with the people’s right to use public spaces. “We have to balance the right to protest and blocking of roads. In a parliamentary democracy, protests can happen in parliament and on roads. But on roads, it has to be peaceful,” the bench had noted, adding that there cannot be a universal policy since circumstances may vary from case-to-case.

The Shaheen Bagh protest had become the epicenter of the anti-CAA agitation and sparked several such blockades and sit-ins in various parts of the country. The top court today stressed that the occupation of public places indefinitely, whether in Shaheen Bagh or elsewhere, cannot be allowed. “These sort of protests (like Shaheen Bagh) are not acceptable and authorities should act… The administration cannot wait for orders from the court to clear the protest sites,” it said.

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