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Protest but don't block roads: Supreme Court on Shaheen Bagh sit-in

The top court said it had tried to find an out-of-the-box solution by appointing interlocutors to persuade the protesters looking at the prevailing conditions.

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Last Updated: Feb 26, 2020, 05.39 PM IST
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NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday said that it cannot say repeatedly that protesters at Shaheen Bagh in Delhi has the right to protest but they cannot block roads.

The top court said it had tried to find an out-of-the-box solution by appointing interlocutors to persuade the protesters looking at the prevailing conditions.

A bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and K M Joseph said that though the court had thought of adopting an out-of-the-box solution but did not have any idea as to how far it had succeeded.

"We have already said in earlier hearings and cannot repeatedly say that the protesters do have the right to protest but they cannot block the roads," the bench said.

The top court remarks came after advocate Shashank Deo Sudhi, appearing for BJP leader Nand Kishore Garg, sought some interim order for removal of protesters from the road at Shaheen Bagh, saying people are using their right to protest as a weapon and causing inconvenience to others.

It added, "We have thought of something which was an out of box solution to the problem. However, we don't know how far we have succeeded but we must say that the interlocutors have made every endeavour to do whatever necessary to find the solution. We appreciate their efforts."

The bench said that it had gone through the report of the two interlocutors senior advocate Sanjay Hegde and advocate Sadhana Ramachandran.

It told the interlocutors that people at Shaheen Bagh have to come forward for the solution.

"Appointing of the interlocutors was an out-of-box solution. But let's see, how far we have succeeded," it added.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said that interlocutors were asked by the court to persuade the protesters to vacate the road, not to find alternatives to the blocked roads.

To this, the bench said, the court order was very clear in this regard.

"Their job was to instill confidence among the protesters that they have the right to protest but not at this place. We think they did their job well and we appreciate that," the bench said.

It asked all the parties to maintain composure, saying that "this is not how the developing society works and behaves. There can be difference of opinion. People may have their contra view which can be debated. There has to be a manner of debate."

The top court agreed with the views of Mehta that "manifestation of dissent should be civilized".

The solicitor general said that the observation of the court should not be put in the order as it may have a demoralising effect on the law enforcing agencies.

"We agree with that. The problem is that media people in the court starts tweeting about any word spoken in the court. By the time, order is dictated, it is spread all over. Many a times, what has been expressed in court is not part of the order. What we say in court is part of discussion, which we have. We must say that the views of the court is in its order," the bench said.

Mehta said that he was not referring to the media but the parties on other side, who may refer to the apex court's order in other judicial platforms.

Advocate Mehmood Pracha, appearing for some of the parties said that it is an open court and media can report the observation made during the proceedings.

The bench deferred the hearing of the matter for March 23.

The top court was hearing two pleas -- one by lawyer and petitioner Amit Sahni and another by BJP leader Nand Kishore Garg -- seeking removal of protesters from Shaheen Bagh, the epicentre of agitation against the Citizenship Amendment Act for over two months.

On Monday, the Supreme Court-appointed interlocutors had filed their report in a sealed cover in the apex court following their talks with protestors at Shaheen Bagh.

The court had on February 17 asked senior advocate Sanjay Hegde to "play a constructive role as an interlocutor" and talk to the protestors to move to an alternative site where no public place would be blocked.

It had said that Hegde along with advocate Sadhana Ramachandran or any other person of his choice may talk to the protestors.

Sahni, who had 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 last year.

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 plea in the apex court seeking directions to authorities to remove protestors from Shaheen Bagh.

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

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