On Monday, the Supreme Court asked how protestors at Shaheen Bagh could occupy a public road for nearly two months. The court was hearing petitions demanding the stretch occupied by protestors in Delhi be cleared to ease traffic congestion for commuters. The court is scheduled to hear the matter again on February 17.

Since December 15, the women residents of the predominantly Muslim locality of Shaheen Bagh in South Delhi have been sitting in a round-the-clock protest against Modi government’s amendments to India’s citizenship law and the proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens.

Their protest has inspired similar, women-led demonstrations across the country. But it has also sparked debate on the ethics of blocking a road.

The protestors in Shaheen Bagh occupy a stretch of GD Birla Marg, an arterial road that connects Delhi to Noida in Uttar Pradesh. Residents of nearby localities have complained that the blockade is causing them inconvenience. Commuters travelling on this route say it has added to their travel time.

Scroll.in mapped the roads in the area and found that the public inconvenience was not merely because of the closure of GD Birla Marg. Two alternative routes that could have been used by commuters have been barricaded by Delhi and Uttar Pradesh police.

Delhi police officials did not explain why they had barricaded the entry to the alternative routes and said it was “just a security measure”. Asked about the inconvenience this was causing commuters, Deputy Commissioner of Police for South East Delhi, Rajendra Prasad Meena, said: “Cordoning off is not the issue, it is the protestors that are on the road [who are]. We are facilitating vehicles coming from one point and directing them to alternate routes.”

Uttar Pradesh police, on the other hand, passed the buck on to the Delhi police for erecting barricades blocking the entry of commuters from Noida into Delhi.

“Delhi Police on one side have blocked [the road] and that is why we had to block [it] from our end to direct Noida commuters,” said Rajesh S, the Deputy Commissioner of Police for traffic in Noida. “There is no point in us blocking it.”

Barricades put up by Delhi police on the GD Birla Marg. Photo: Vijayta Lalwani

Barricaded points

Shaheen Bagh is on the edge of southeastern Delhi. Travel three kilometre east and you hit the Uttar Pradesh border, beyond which lies Noida. Six kilometres south of Shaheen Bagh is Haryana’s Faridabad district.

The locality lies on the northern side of GD Birla Marg, which carries vehicular traffic between Delhi and Noida. People travelling from Noida to Faridabad via Delhi also use this road. On the south of GD Birla Marg is the urban village of Madanpur Khadar.

The women residents of Shaheen Bagh have been sitting under a large tent erected on the lane carrying Delhi traffic eastwards to Noida. Delhi Police have placed barricades 500 metres from the protest site on both sides of the road, blocking even westwards traffic from Noida to Delhi.

This empty stretch is now being used by the protestors to display protest art. On both sides of the road, shops and commercial establishments are shut.

Another 200 metres from the first set of police barricades, towards the west, are another set of barricades. It is unclear why the police have cordoned off this additional stretch.

With the closure of GD Birla Marg, vehicular traffic between Delhi and Noida could have passed through the Kalindi Kunj Mithapur Road that runs parallel to GD Birla Marg. It is a narrower road than GD Birla Marg but could have functioned as an alternative route. However, Uttar Pradesh police have blocked access to this road by placing barricades around the Kalindi Kunj Bridge that connects Uttar Pradesh to Delhi.

Another route could have been the Khadar Kalindi Kunj Road, also a narrow road, but the Delhi Police have blocked it by placing barricades near the Kalindi Kunj metro station.

While Delhi and Uttar Pradesh police cordoning off these alternative roads, traffic between Delhi and Noida is either passing through the narrow lanes of Madanpur Khadar village, or taking a much longer detour through the Delhi Noida Direct Flyway.

Police barricades placed 700 metres from the protest site. Photo: Vijayta Lalwani

Impact of blockade

The immediate impact of the blockade is being felt in Madanpur Khadar, where traffic congestion has become acute.

“It takes me so much time to enter Khadar and the whole road leading to it is jammed,” said Mohammad Arif, a 36-year-old auto rickshaw driver. He said ferrying passengers between Shaheen Bagh and Madanpur Khadar, which took him 10 minutes earlier, now takes over an hour.

Traffic along the road entering into Madanpur Khadar village. Photo: Vijayta Lalwani

The traffic congestion in the area has made a two-km journey to Sarita Vihar, a larger locality many schools and offices are located, take as long as an hour, say residents.

“My child goes to school in Sarita Vihar and the route is just five minutes but that has not been the case for a month,” said Sanjay Kumar, a 37-year-old store owner in the village.

Devender, who runs a pharmacy in Madanpur Khadar, said: “It is troublesome for us but it is more troublesome for those going towards Noida and Faridabad.”

Piya Seth, a resident of Delhi, who commutes from Sarita Vihar to Noida, blamed the Delhi police for blocking access to the alternative routes, The Quint reported on February 5. “The Delhi police said that the ambulance and the school buses will be allowed to pass through the route but that is not happening,” she said.

With inputs from Arunabh Saikia.