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Public spaces cannot be occupied indefinitely: Supreme Court on Shaheen Bhag protests

New Delhi: Pronouncing its verdict on the balance between the right to protest and other rights in relation to the protests that took place at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh this year, the Supreme Court has held that public spaces cannot be occupied indefinitely. The administration must keep such spaces free from obstructions. And not wait to fire from court’s shoulder.

Bar and Bench reported that the SC Bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan KaulAniruddha Bose and Krishna Murari held, “Dissent and democracy go hand in hand.”

The Bench held that while the right to protest is a constitutionally protected right, it cannot be exercised to cause obstruction to other citizens.

The Court went on to note that it was the duty of the administration to remove such blockades of roads. The administration’s inaction in this regard warranted the Court’s intervention, the Bench held.

The administration must carry out its function of clearing out obstructions from roads and carriage ways and not wait for the Court’s order to do so, the order states.

In context with the anti-CAA protests at Shaheen Bagh, two petitions were filed before the Supreme Court for the clearance of Kalindi Kunj Road, which is in proximity to the site of the protests. The first petition was filed by lawyer and activist, Amit Sahni. Sahni has prayed for certain specific directions for the removal of the blockage at the protest site.

The second petition was filed by Nand Kishore Garg. He had sought the removal of protesters from the site on Kalindi Kunj Road.

While hearing the petitions seeking the clearing of the protest site at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, the Supreme Court had asked a team of interlocutors to hold talks with the protesters. The interlocutors – Senior Advocate Sanjay Hegde and Advocate Sadhana Ramachandran – had submitted the report before the Court on February 26.

Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, the protest site had to be cleared out earlier this year, after many months of a peaceful sit-in demonstration against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

While reserving its verdict in the matter, the Court had noted that a balance needed to be struck between the people’s right to protest and the right to free movement of others. The Court had said that while the right of people to protest is a valuable right in a democracy, that there are also other public rights such as the right to movement and mobility that exist, and a balance has to be drawn between these.

 

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