Shaheen Bagh | Balance right to protest with right to movement: Supreme Court

The top court’s observation came while reserving the verdict on a batch of pleas against the anti-CAA protests which had led to blocking of a road in Shaheen Bagh in the national capital last December

Updated - September 21, 2020 06:25 pm IST

Published - September 21, 2020 05:07 pm IST - New Delhi

File photo of the protests at Shaheen Bagh

File photo of the protests at Shaheen Bagh

The Supreme Court on Monday said the right to protest needs to be balanced with the right to movement of the public.


A Bench led by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul was hearing a petition filed over seven months ago to shift the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protestors of Shaheen Bagh, most of them mothers and their children, to an alternative site as they had been “blocking” public movement and causing traffic snarls in the area.

The protestors were later removed by the police on March 24 with the outbreak of the pandemic and the resultant national lockdown.

Letter to CJI

The protestors had at the time written to Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde against the “forcible and vindictive removal of the protest site” by the Delhi Police. The letter did not come up for discussion during the hearing in Monday.

Also read: Shaheen Bagh protest an example of struggle between rights and duties of people: Naqvi

Instead, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the right to protest, like any other right, was not “absolute”.


Justice Kaul said in a parliamentary democracy the avenue of debate was first the Parliament. In addition, the peaceful protests can be held.


The court has reserved for orders on the point of balancing right to protest with right to public movement.

Also read: Shaheen Bagh interlocutors file report in Supreme Court

The petitioner, advocate Amit Sahni, said though the reason for the petition — the blockage of the main road by Shaheen Bagh protestors — has become infructuous, the court should pass specific orders that “in future, protests should not hinder public movement”.


In February, the court had appointed interlocutors — senior advocate Sanjay Hegde and advocate Sadhana Ramachandran — to coax the Shaheen Bagh protestors to shift.


Use of State machinery

During the hearing, advocate Mehmood Pracha, for an intervenor, referred to the manner in which the protest was dismantled. He said the court should not always consider the “state machinery as sacrosanct”.


“State machinery can be abused to convert a peaceful protest of many months into something else. The ruling political party came with the police and the violence started,” Mr. Pracha submitted.


Seven months ago, though the court had found riots in Delhi “unfortunate”, it did not intervene in an application filed by former chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah and Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad, to provide protection to the Shaheen Bagh protestors.

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