The Supreme Court on Monday upheld the fundamental right of mothers, children and ordinary people of Shaheen Bagh and Delhi to protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) even as it expressed concern over their blocking public areas like roads to voice their discontent .
“Democracy works on different views. We have no quibble on that. You want to protest, no problem. You don't want to wait for our judgment on the validity of CAA but want to have a social build-up against the legislation, we have no problem... We do not mind if a 1000 sites are created, but our limited concern is whether you could protest without blocking roads and entering public areas... With every right there comes a responsibility too," Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul observed.
The court appointed senior advocate Sanjay Hegde to act as an interlocutor along with advocate Sadhana Ramachandran to convey the court's apprehension to the protestors and suggest them to move to an area where they could continue with the protests but not inconvenience public movement. The court left it to Mr. Hegde to approach former bureaucrat Wajahat Habibullah to join them in the talks.
“My colleague Sadhana Ramachandran and I accept the responsibility laced upon us by the Supreme Court. We will be meeting all parties with a view to assisting them to resolve their issues in a manner that respects and safeguards both the right to protest and requirements of orderly civic life,” Mr. Hegde later said in a statement to the media.
During the hearing, Justice K.M. Joseph, on the Bench, stressed that the “right to protest is recognised all over the world. We have a fundamental right to assemble. The right is only subject to security and public order".
Justice Joseph was responding to submissions mad by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Delhi Police, that children and women are used as a “shield” by the protestors.
The court made it clear that it was not going to interfere or curtail the right to protest of ordinary people. It said it was only worried whether “tomorrow someone else may try to emulate the Shaheen Bagh protesters and block another portion of an already congested Delhi”.
“You [Shaheen Bagh protesters] may have genuine concerns, but if everybody starts blocking roads and entering public areas... where will it end? It may create a chaotic situation,” Justice Kaul said
He also spoke of the possibility of another section of people “who may be not on the same page as you may get an idea to start a protest somewhere else... Then where do we end?”
The court asked Mr. Mehta to suggest alternative sites for the protesters. But Mr. Mehta objected, saying that it was for the protesters to find an alternative spot.
“But the right to protest in a democracy is a fundamental right...” Justice Joseph reiterated.
Referring to the appointment of an interlocutor and future talks with protesters, Mr. Mehta said these efforts from the court should not be seen by the protesters as “every institution kneeling” to them.
“We have taken it upon ourselves to dissolve this issue now. Why did you not meet them for the past 68 days of their protest then” Justice Joseph asked Mr. Mehta.
The law officer said efforts were made through local residents, religious leaders, etc, but to no avail.
“I always believe that the inner strength of the people will see help them see reason. For now, we have expressed our opinion. If nothing works out, then we will leave it to the authorities...”, Justice Kaul said.
The case was posted for further hearing on February 24.
The hearing is based on a petition filed by advocate Amit Sahni, seeking a direction to forcibly remove the peaceful protesters. Mr. Sahni said the protest hampered the lives of ordinary commuters. Main thoroughfares that usually saw busy traffic had been sealed off.