SC Asks Interlocutors to Speak to Shaheen Bagh Protesters

Sanjay Hegde and Sadhana Ramachandran asked by judges to speak to protesters about moving to alternate site.

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Video Editor: Sandeep Suman

The Supreme Court on Monday, 17 February asked senior advocate Sanjay Hegde and advocate Sadhana Ramachandran to meet the protesters at Shaheen Bagh and discuss moving the protests to an alternative site where no public place would be blocked. The two lawyers have been told they can also take the help of former information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah.

The bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and KM Joseph noted that people have a fundamental right to protest against a law but the blocking of public roads is a matter of concern and there has to be a balancing factor.

Hearing pleas over the road blocks due to the ongoing protests at Shaheen Bagh against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the judges said they are concerned about the consequences of allowing protests to take over public roads, and sought the intervention of Hegde and others as interlocutors to speak to the protesters.

The matter has next been posted for hearing on 24 February, by when the interlocutors are expected to speak to the protesters.

In a brief response to the media soon after the apex court’s directions, the protesters at Shaheen Bagh said they would speak to whoever the court sent.

Jo court se koi aadmi aavega baat karna, hum karenge baat (Whoever comes from the court, we will speak),” one of the now famous ‘dadis’ of Shaheen Bagh confirmed on their behalf (see from 2:55 below).

Speaking to The Quint, Sanjay Hedge said they would try to find a resolution to the situation that achieved the right balance.

“My colleague Sadhana Ramachandran and I accept the responsibility placed upon us by the Supreme Court. We will be meeting all parties with a view to assisting them to resolve their issues in a manner that respects and safeguards both the right to protest and the requirements of orderly civic life. We hope that our assistance leads to these matters being resolved in good faith and to the satisfaction of all parties.”

‘Democracy Works on Expressing Views, But There Are Lines and Boundaries’

During the hearing, the judges acknowledged that people have a fundamental right to protest “but the thing which is troubling us is the blocking of public roads.”

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said Shaheen Bagh protesters should not be given a message that every institution is on its knees trying to persuade them on this issue.

The apex court said that if nothing works, they would leave it to the authorities to deal with the situation as the protesters have made their point and the protests have gone on for quite some time. Democracy works on expressing views but there are lines and boundaries for it, the bench said.

Restrictions have been imposed on the Kalindi Kunj-Shaheen Bagh stretch and the Okhla underpass, which were closed on 15 December last year due to the protests against CAA and National Register of Citizens.

An intervenor before the court argued that the authorities had closed down several stretches of roads around Shaheen Bagh which could be opened to ease traffic, and that vehicles which urgently needed to use the road occupied by the protesters – such as ambulances – were allowed to pass through. The Solicitor General contested these assertions.

The top court had on 10 February said the anti-CAA protesters at Delhi's Shaheen Bagh cannot block public roads and create inconvenience for others. Despite this, the court had refused to pass any interim orders for the removal of the protesters, and did not pass any such directions at the hearing on Monday either.

Why is the Supreme Court Looking Into This Matter?

The apex court was hearing an appeal filed by advocate Amit Sahni, who had approached the Delhi High Court seeking directions to the Delhi Police to ensure smooth traffic flow on the Kalindi Kunj-Shaheen Bagh stretch, which was blocked by anti-CAA protesters on 15 December.

While dealing with Sahni's plea, the high court had asked local authorities to deal with the situation keeping in mind law and order.

Separately, former BJP MLA Nand Kishore Garg has filed a petition in the apex court seeking directions to the authorities to remove the protesters from Shaheen Bagh.

One of the pleas has sought laying down of comprehensive and exhaustive guidelines relating to outright restrictions for holding protests or agitations leading to obstruction of public place.

In his plea, Garg has said that law enforcement machinery was being "held hostage to the whims and fancies of the protesters" who have blocked vehicular and pedestrian movement in the road connecting Delhi to Noida.

The State has the duty to protect fundamental rights of citizen who were continuously being harassed by the blockage of arterial road, it said.

"It is disappointing that the State machinery is muted and a silent spectator to hooliganism and vandalism of the protesters who are threatening the existential efficacy of the democracy and the rule of law and had already taken the law and order situation in their own hand," the plea had said.

In his appeal, Sahni had sought supervision of the situation in Shaheen Bagh, where several women are sitting on protest, by a retired Supreme Court judge or a sitting judge of the Delhi High Court.

Sahni has said in his plea that protests in Shaheen Bagh has inspired similar demonstrations in other cities and to allow it to continue would set a wrong precedent.

(With inputs from PTI.)

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