Supreme Court protects right to protest, allows stirs at Jantar Mantar

NEW DELHI: Delhi got its “protest” site at Jantar Mantar bac .. 
NEW DELHI : Delhi got its “protest” site at Jantar Mantar back, with a bonus of Boat Club, with the Supreme Court striking down on Monday a ban on demonstrations at the historic observatory imposed last year by the National Green Tribunal.The court restored the two venues, close to the seat of power in central Delhi, for protesters and said people had a fundamental right to demonstrate peacefully. Their displacement to Ramlila Maidan had proved a non-starter and robbed protests, including sit-ins, of a historic venue like Jantar Mantar.The decision to allow protests at Boat Club is significant as all public demonstrations were banned from the sprawling greens for long since large rallies in the late 1980s and early 1990s were seen to have been too disruptive. Rallies are still out of bounds, but protests will be allowed in accordance with guidelines. Suggesting likely parameters, the court said there could be restrictive and limited use of the venues with provisions for regulating the number of persons, prescribing a minimum distance from Parliament House, North and South Blocks, the SC and residences of dignitaries where no demonstrations will be allowed.A bench of justice A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan decided to allow peaceful demonstrations at Boat Club, where such activity was banned since 1993. The NGT had, on October 5 last year, banned all protests around Jantar Mantar for “violating” green laws. “The right protest is recognised as fundamental right under the Constitution. This right is crucial in a democracy which rests on paticipation of an informed citizenry in governance,” the bench said SC tells police to frame guidelines for agitations This right (to protest) is also crucial since it strengthens representative democracy by enabling direct participation in public affairs where individuals and groups are able to express dissent and grievances, expose flaws in governance and demand accountability from state authorities as well as powerful entities.This right is crucial in a vibrant democracy like India but more so in the Indian context to aid in the assertion of the rights of the marginalised and poorly represented minorities,” the bench observed. The court, however, said people could not have an unhindered right to hold demonstrations and asked the Centre, Delhi Police and other authorities to frame guidelines for protests in the sensitive zone. It also found fault with Delhi Police’s decision to impose prohibitory orders repeatedly to ban protests in central Delhi.Police said they were going through the copy of the court order and will come up with a response soon. Though the apex court agreed with the reasoning of the tribunal, it however, held that people cannot be barred from holding peaceful protests. It said there should be regulation to ensure that residents of the area were not harassed. “We feel that the pathetic conditions which were caused as a result of the processions, demonstrations and agitations etc at Jantar Mantar were primarily because of the reason that the authorities did not take the necessary measures to regulate the same,” the bench said, noting that the rights of protesters and citizens could be balanced. “The demonstrators were allowed to go on with non-stop slogans, even at odd hours at night, and that too with the use of loudspeakers.The authorities could have ensured that such slogans are within the parameters of noise pollution norms and there is noshouting or slogans at night hours or early morning hours,” it said.

Doctrine of sovereign immunity does not apply to cases of fundamental rights violation and hence cannot be used as a defence in public law. A distinguishing feature of any democracy is the space offered for legitimate dissent, said the Court. Supre...


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