“Right to protest is not absolute, but there is a right… In a parliamentary democracy, there is always an avenue of debate. Protests can be done peacefully,” Justice Kaul said. The court would address the need to balance the right to protests with the right of others to free access and movement, he said.
The bench was dealing with pleas which sought to highlight the inconveniences to commuters and massive traffic jams created in the capital city caused by protests.
The SC has in a series of rulings long held that the right of people to protest in a democracy was sacrosanct. The executive cannot close down any area permanently for protests or impose a blanket ban on all protests, it had said.
It has also gone to the extent of saying that the state must aid protestors in their enjoyment of this right while regulating the right to protest by laying down the time, place, etc. where citizens could protest. The right cannot be defeated by a blanket ban of any sort on protests, it had held.
However, Monday’s remarks hint to a nuancing of this stand and balancing with another’s right to free movement and access. The Modi government had in its submission said that the people had a right to protest peacefully but it should not cause inconvenience to the public. The Shaheen Bagh protests were blamed for blocking key roads in the area.
Anti-CAA/NRC protestors have since been blamed for instigating riots in Delhi and many have been arrested for the alleged offence. The protests continued for over 100 days before the pandemic forced the protestors to disperse.