Right To Protest Cannot Be Anytime And Everywhere, Says Supreme Court
Demonstrators hold up flags and placards while gathering to protest against the Citizen Amendment Act at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, India. (Photographer: T.Narayan/Bloomberg)

Right To Protest Cannot Be Anytime And Everywhere, Says Supreme Court

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The right to protest cannot be anytime and everywhere, the Supreme Court said as it dismissed a plea seeking review of its verdict passed last year that held the occupation of public ways during the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests at Shaheen Bagh in New Delhi was not acceptable.

There may be some spontaneous protests but in case of prolonged dissent or protest, there cannot be continued occupation of public place affecting rights of others, the top court bench said, dismissing a plea by one Shaheen Bagh resident Kaniz Fatima and others seeking review of last year's verdict.

A bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Aniruddha Bose and Kirshna Murari said, "We have perused the review petition and record of the civil appeal and are convinced that the order of which review has been sought, does not suffer from any error apparent warranting its reconsideration."

The bench, which has passed the order recently, said it has considered the earlier judicial pronouncements and recorded its opinion that the Constitutional scheme comes with a right to protest and express dissent but with an obligation to have certain duties.

The top court, which considered the matter in the judges' chambers, also rejected the prayer for open court hearing in the matter.

The apex court had on Oct. 7 held that public spaces cannot be occupied indefinitely and demonstrations expressing dissent have to be in designated places alone.

It had said occupation of public ways in the anti-CAA protests at Shaheen Bagh locality was not acceptable. The mode and manner of dissent against colonial rule during India's freedom struggle, it said, cannot be equated with dissent in a self-ruled democracy.

"However, while appreciating the existence of the right to peaceful protest against a legislation... we have to make it unequivocally clear that public ways and public spaces cannot be occupied in such a manner and that too indefinitely," the top court had said.

The apex court's verdict had come on a plea by lawyer Amit Sahni against blockade of a road in Shaheen Bagh area by those protesting against the CAA, which aimed to provide Indian citizenship to persecuted minorities of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

It had held that the protest at Shaheen Bagh was a blockage of a public way which caused grave inconvenience to commuters.

The top court had said such kind of occupation of public ways, whether at the site in question or anywhere else for protests, is not acceptable and the administration ought to take action to keep the areas clear of encroachments or obstructions.

Democracy and dissent go hand in hand, but then the demonstrations expressing dissent have to be in designated places alone, it had said. "We cannot accept the plea of the applicants that an indeterminable number of people can assemble whenever they choose to protest."

Restrictions were imposed on the Kaindi Kunj-Shaheen Bagh stretch and the Okhla underpass, which were closed on Dec. 15, 2019 due to the protests.

Later, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the area was cleared.

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