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SC Refuses to Order Removal of Shaheen Bagh Protesters For Now

The bench comprising justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph said it would not pass any direction without hearing the other side and posted the matter for February 17.
Shaheen Bagh anti CAA-NRC protest

Image Courtesy: Facebook

New Delhi: Refusing to pass an order for removal of the sit-in protest against CAA-NRC-NPR in Shaheen Bagh for now, the Supreme Court on February 10 issued notice to the Central government on petitions which sought the clearance of Road Number 13A (GD Birla Marg, which connects Noida-Delhi-Faridabad) near Shaheen Bagh.

The indefinite sit-in is being staged predominantly by women for the past 55 days against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the National Population Register (NPR) and the proposed National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC).

Hearing the petitions filed by Advocate Nand Kishor Garg and Advocate Amit Sahni, a bench of Justice KM Joseph and Justice SK Kaul, however, orally observed that the "protest can go on, but it should be done in an area designated for protests".

"There cannot be indefinite protests in a common area. If everybody starts protesting everywhere, what will happen? You cannot inconvenience people," remarked Justice Kaul.

The bench then issued a notice to the Centre, junking the petitioner plea for an interim direction. The matter was adjourned for February 17.

As the lawyers pressed for interim directions citing inconvenience, the bench declined, saying, "Protests have been going on for 50 days and it can go on a little longer. We would like to hear the other side."

One of the petitioners, Advocate Amit Sahni, had earlier approached the Delhi High Court with the same grievance. But that was disposed of with the High Court asking the authorities (the Centre, the Delhi Police and the Delhi government) to look into it keeping law and order situation and public order in mind in the "larger interest" of the society. 

The petitioners have challenged the order in the apex court through a Special Leave Petition (SLP).

It has been stated in the petitions that an "alarming situation" has arisen due to a "blockade" of the road between the Kalindi Kunj and Mathura Road region, which connects Delhi-Noida-Faridabad. This has led to traffic being diverted to the Delhi-Noida-Delhi (DND) flyway, which sees lakhs of commuters, and needs to be decongested. 

"Commuters and residents living in the vicinity are suffering as the road was closed for about a month," said Sahni in his petition.

Questioning the justification for the High Court not issuing specific directions on his plea, Sahni wanted to know if protesters had the unrestricted right under Article 19 of the Constitution to "protest on a busy road in violation of other persons' right to have a thoroughfare". He argued that protesters have the right to peacefully protest but it must be subject to reasonable restrictions and cannot be permitted to continue, as it has been for "over a month", since it creates "disturbance to public at large thereby resulting in wastage of fuel, time and energy of lacs of commuters travelling daily".

Calling the situation "extremely sensitive", the petitioner has said that the respondents (the police and civil administrations) cannot be "mute spectators" in such circumstances. 

Sahni has also said that the demonstrators had been using loudspeakers, as reported, and also "disturbing public tranquility" in addition to obstructing traffic. He has said that the protest cannot be permitted to go on at the cost of others' suffering. 

Sahni has also reminded the court of its duty to "strike a balance between competing claims of different interests".

The bench said it would not pass any direction without hearing the other side and posted the matter for February 17.

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