Thursday, March 30, 2023

Farmers protest: Supreme Court says agitators can’t block roads, to examine right to protest

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The Supreme Court on Thursday said farmers have the right to protest but that can’t be at the cost of blocking roads and inconveniencing the citizenry.

Hearing the kisan mahapanchayat plea seeking permission to protest at Jantar Mantar and the Ram Lila Ground, the Court said it would examine if the right to protest is also an absolute right at that.

The bench of Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice M.M. Sundresh directed the parties to find some resolution ultimately while dealing with the matter. “There are competing interests of farmers who are agitating. I’m of the opinion that they have the right to protest. But people have the right to go on the roads.”

“The law is laid down. There’s nothing more to be laid down. You can tell them that their cooperation will help in resolving the issue,” the Court said when Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said only two farmer unions have appeared before the court.

Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave appearing for the farmer unions said, “By order dated December 17, 2020, a bench of 3 judges headed by Chief Justice of India had taken up the issue. The then CJI Bobde had said that we cannot pass directions to remove protesters. Right to protest is sacrosanct.”

“The court had specifically noted that there is no order as long as the protests remain peaceful. This matter is getting attention. There are multiple petitions on the issue.”

Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul stated, “We are not getting into challenge to the law and protest. This is only about blocking of the road,”

Dave pointed out that the bench then had said it wouldn’t go into this, reading out the December 2020 order.

SG Mehta contended , “There was nothing about roads then. It was a petition to challenge the Acts.”

Advocate Anupam, appearing for petitioners wanting the road be vacated, submitted, “I’m representing citizens of the country. One is a nurse at Gangaram Hospital. There are problems with the road blockage.”

Justice Kaul affirmed, “The law is clear. You have a right to agitate but the roads cannot be blocked. Why the blockage has taken place, how it has taken place has to be resolved.”

“When this court took up the issue regarding the challenge to the Act for the first time, these farm unions were also called. They refused to appear before the court. The court took the unprecedented step of staying operating of a law. The agitation is for some other reasons,” Mehta submitted.

“The agitation is for the farm laws. The SG is trying to attribute something to farmers. We all know why the farm laws were passed,” said Senior Advocate Dave.

Solicitor General said the obstruction on the road are being raised in court. “I was apprehensive about this. Some unions did come before the committee. These unions did not come to the committee.”

The bench said, “We can’t compel everyone to come. Two of the committees have come.”

With tempers slightly up, SG Mehta told the bench that Mr Dave is agitated. The senior advocate replied that he was not and asked why the SG would attribute it to him?

Justice Kaul told the senior counsels that it was the first back and he would like it to be pleasant. Juistice Kaul said he was smiling at them since he had seen them after so long. Dave also noted that everyone is happy and said he had met some 100 lawyers who were very happy.

 Returning to the argument, Justice Kaul said, “So we are ad idem (broadly agree) on the issue that you have a right to agitate. You are saying roads are not blocked,” said Justice Kaul when Dave said the police have blocked roads and not agitating farmers.

Dave submitted further, “The solution is that they should allow us to come to Ram Leela Maidan. After stopping us, the BJP held a rally at Ram Leela Maidan with 5 lakh people. Why is there this selective permission?”

“There was a serious issue when some people were allowed inside,” submitted the SG while explaining as to why people were allowed in the said premises.

Dave said, “The serious issue was engineered. The people who climbed the Red Fort were granted bail and state had no issue.”

Justice Kaul questioned Dave, “Is it your contention that roads can be occupied or is it your contention that roads have been blocked by police?”

“The roads have been blocked due to the way Delhi Police has made the arrangements. It suits them to allow a feeling that farmers are blocking the road,” Dave replied.

The petition prayed to provide space to at least 200 farmers/protesters of the Mahapanchayat at Jantar Mantar for organising satyagraha and direction to the respondents not to stop the agitators from proceeding towards Jantar Mantar to carry out the indefinite satyagraha.

According to the petition, the action of the respondents in detaining the petitioners or ‘satyagrahis’ for the whole day when they are protesting peacefully and in orderly fashion as per Covid-19 norms proceeding for the designated place to hold satyagraha as per the Standing Order of Delhi Police is violative of Articles 14, 19 & 21 of the Constitution of India.

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