The right to protest in public places is not absolute and public places cannot be occupied indefinitely for such protests, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday in a verdict on a plea over the Shaheen Bagh blockade.
'There can be peaceful protests but public spaces cannot be blocked. It should not lead to inconvenience, the top court said in its verdict.
The court was hearing a bunch of petitions seeking directives from the court on right to protest at public spaces in light of the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC).
"It is disappointing that the state machinery is muted and a silent spectator to hooliganism and vandalism of the protesters who are threatening the existential efficacy of the democracy and the rule of law and had already taken the law and order situation in their own hand," the petition had said.
The petitioner, former BJP MLA Nand Kishore Garg said that the protests, though within the constitutional framework, blocked public spaces and cause inconvenience to the public at large. "Hence, it is urgently required that the public places must not be allowed to be abused and misused for ulterior and mala fide purposes such as staging a protest against the constitutional amendment in the heart of the capital city and thereby causing incalculable hardships and difficulties to the common people," the plea stated.
"Democracy and dissent go hand in hand... (But) Occupying public places like Shaheen Bagh for protests is not acceptable... Authorities have to act on their own and cannot hide behind courts... Public places cannot be occupied indefinitely like during the Shaheen Bagh protests," the Supreme Court said.
“Occupation of public places for protests is not acceptable. Authorities must ensure removal of occupation of public places,” the bench which also comprised justices Aniruddha Bose and Krishna Murari held.
Welcoming the verdict, Dr Nasir President Shaheen Bagh Market association said, "We welcome the SC verdict, around 200 shops were shut down and 2000 workers were jobless. All the shops are of branded items. We have faced a loss of crores."
What the Supreme Court said:
No person or group of persons can block public places or carriageways to demonstrate or express dissent.
Authorities should remove such blockade
Protest should be at designated places
Occupation of public places or roads by demonstrators, which cause inconvenience to a large number of people and violate their rights, is not permissible under law.
Right to peaceful protest is a constitutional right and it has to be respected. But that does not mean agitating people should adopt means and modes of protest that was used against colonial rulers during the struggle for independence
In today's time, social media can be used to create a highly polarised situation, which was seen at Shaheen Bagh protests