The Supreme Court has dismissed the review petition challenging its on Shaheen Bagh protests, reiterating its stand that prolonged protests cannot be at the cost of the continued occupation of public spaces that affects the rights of others, reported Bar & Bench on Saturday.

“Constitutional scheme comes with a right to protest and express dissent but with an obligation to have certain duties,” ruled a bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Aniruddha Bose and Krishna Murari. “The right to protest cannot be anytime and everywhere. There may be some spontaneous protests but in case of prolonged dissent or protest, there cannot be continued occupation of public place affecting rights of others.”

The petition, filed by 12 individuals, had sought a joint hearing of their plea with the farm laws petitions in view of the observations made during the hearing on the right to protest regarding the agriculture reforms, reported Live Law.

The petitioners submitted that the verdict in review was essentially in relation to the right of citizens to protest against the policies of the government. According to the petitioner, there was a contrasting view on the legality and extent of right to protest at public places during the ongoing farmers protest as per Supreme Court’s observation on December 17. Although the review petition was decided on February 9, the order came late on Friday night, according to NDTV.

In the December 17 order, the Supreme Court had observed that “the farmers’ protest should be allowed to continue without impediment and without any breach of peace either by the protesters or the police”.

On the basis of this order, the review petition argued the constitutional guarantee of fundamental rights for all the citizens is same and cannot be segregated.

Another ground for the review raised by the petitioners was vast powers the judgement conferred on the police, leaving scope for abuse. “Such observations may prove to be a license in the hands of the police to commit atrocities on the legitimate voice of protest, especially protesters coming from vulnerable sections of the social strata,” the petition submitted.

The petitioners had argued that the October verdict would lead to a situation where the administration would never engage in dialogue with protesters but instead take action against them including their prosecution.

The October verdict

The Supreme Court had on October 7 observed that public spaces cannot be occupied indefinitely. The court’s remarks came in connection with the road blockade at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh area by protestors opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act.

In its verdict on a batch of pleas seeking to have the site cleared, a three-judge bench headed by Justice SK Kaul observed that dissent and democracy go hand in hand, but that protests must be carried out in designated areas.

The court said that the Shaheen Bagh movement began as a protest but had caused inconvenience to commuters. “Social media channels often fraught with danger lead to highly polarising environment and this is what was witnessed in Shaheen Bagh,” it said.

The judges also pulled up the administration for not taking action on the matter. The court said that it adjudicates the legality of the action and added that the ruling was not meant to “give a shoulder” to the administration. It is the “responsibility of the respondent parties to take suitable action but such actions should produce suitable results,” the three-judge bench observed.

On December 15, 2019, a group of around 50 women had occupied a road at Shaheen Bagh, demanding the withdrawal of the Citizenship Amendment Act. Gradually, the numbers increased as more protesters joined as police failed to convince the protesters to vacate the road. The protests that started in Delhi in mid-December also spread across the country.

The Citizenship Amendment Act provides citizenship to refugees from six minority communities in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, who have entered India on or before December 31, 2014. The Act, passed on December 11, has been criticised for excluding Muslims.