Occupying public places for protests is not acceptable and areas like Shaheen Bagh – which had seen prolonged anti-CAA demonstrations for months starting December last year – cannot be occupied “indefinitely”, the Supreme Court held on Wednesday.
It said protests should be at a designated place and any 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.
The apex court also said that the authorities concerned should not hide behind courts and act on their own in such situations.
A bench headed by Justice S K Kaul said balance has to be struck between the right to protest and other public rights like the right to movement.
“Democracy and dissent go hand in hand,” said the bench, also comprising Justices Aniruddha Bose and Krishna Murari.
It does not mean that the agitating people should adopt means and modes of protest that were used against colonial rulers, it said, adding that public places cannot be occupied “indefinitely” for protests like in the Shaheen Bagh case.
The verdict came on a plea of lawyer Amit Sahni against the blockade of a road in Shaheen Bagh area by persons protesting against the CAA which aimed to provide Indian citizenship to persecuted minorities of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
Sahni had initially approached the Delhi High Court seeking directions to Delhi Police to ensure smooth traffic flow on the Kalindi Kunj-Shaheen Bagh stretch, which was blocked by anti-CAA protesters on December 15.
The high court had urged local authorities to deal with the situation keeping in mind law and order.
Sahni then filed a special leave petition in the apex court against the high court’s order.
Restrictions were imposed on the Kaindi Kunj-Shaheen Bagh stretch and the Okhla underpass, which were closed on December 15 last year due to the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA)and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
However, later due to the Covid-19 pandemic and consequent protocol to deal with it, the protest area got cleared.