Shaheen Bagh Protests: The Public Places can’t be Occupied Indefinitely held SC

 The bench comprising Justices S K Kaul, Aniruddha Bose and Krishna Murari observed that,”Dissent and democracy go hand in hand but protests must be carried out in designated area”.

While delivering a verdict on the protests that took place at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh this year, the Supreme Court has held that public places can’t be occupied indefinitely. The court further noted that “social media channels are often fraught with danger” and they lead to highly polarising environments.

“This is what was witnessed in Shaheen Bagh. What started out as a protest caused inconvenience to commuters,” held the Apex Court

“In what manner the administration should act is their responsibility and should not hide behind court orders to carry out administrative functions. Responsibility of the respondent parties to take suitable action but such actions should produce a suitable result. The Court adjudicates legality of the action and is not meant to give a shoulder to administration. Unfortunately, there was no action by administration and thus our intervention,” Supreme Court ruled.

The SC on 21 September had reserved its pronouncement on the facet of “the need to balance the right to protest with the right of mobility by other people”.

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Brief Facts

  • At Shaheen Bagh from December 15, 2019 protest that was basically led by women started against the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 and the proposal to bring in countrywide National Register of Citizens.
  • In January, the petition was filed by Advocate Amit Sahni seeking to eradicate the protests against CAA-NRC at Shaheen Bagh. He argued that the right of free movement of the public is affected as roads were blocked by the protesters.
  • In January, a bench of Justices SK Kaul & KM Joseph had issued a notice on the petition”There cannot be indefinite protests in a common area. If everybody starts protesting everywhere, what will happen?” the bench had noted
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  • On February 17, the SC appointed Senior Advocate Sanjay Hegde and Advocate Sadhana Ramachandran as interlocutors to hold talks with the Shaheen Bagh protesters regarding the opening up of roads closed due to the protests.
  • On March 24, the Delhi police removed the structures at the protest site, after it was vacated by the protesters on account of the COVID-19 restrictions. The protesters took objection to the police action, and submitted a statement before the SC through the interlocutors, complaining that the police action was high-handed and ought to have been avoided when the matter was sub-judice.
  • In March the protesters although departed from the place because of COVID-19 pandemic, the Court carries on to hear the petition on the larger issue of “the need to balance the right to protest with the right of mobility by other people”.
  • On March 24, the Delhi police removed the structures at the protest site, after it was vacated by the protesters on account of the COVID-19 restrictions. The protesters took objection to the police action, and submitted a statement before the SC through the interlocutors, complaining that the police action was high-handed and ought to have been avoided when the matter was sub-judice.
  • During the hearing on September 21, Justice S K Kaul had observed: “There cannot be a universal policy. In a parliamentary democracy, there is an avenue of debate. The only issue is in what manner and where and for how long and how to balance it.”

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