The Supreme Court on Monday sought a response from the Central government on a plea questioning the repeated imposing of prohibitory orders in central and New Delhi — the heart of the national capital — to ban protests and demonstrations. The bench of Justice AK Sikri and Justice Ashok Bhushan observed that it is important to frame guidelines on the right to protest, so as to ensure that the fundamental right of citizens to protest is balanced with avoiding any inconvenience that may be caused to the public. The court also issued notice to Delhi Police.
Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) empowers an executive magistrate to prohibit an assembly of more than four people in an area. In 2017, police has issued prohibitory orders six times – in January, March, May, July, September and the latest in October. Moving the top court through its founder member Aruna Roy, the PIL petitioner organisation Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan (MKSS) has sought quashing of the six prohibitory orders and a declaration that imposing a blanket ban on all assemblies in central Delhi or New Delhi area is “illegal”. The petitioner has also sought laying down of the guidelines for holding public meetings, dharnas and peaceful demonstrations in various parts of the national capital.
Appearing for MKSS, counsel Prashant Bhushan described as “arbitrary” the repeated issuance of prohibitory orders by Delhi Police. Asserting that the right to peaceful assembly is a fundamental right under the Constitution’s Article 19(1) (b), he said that it was a crucial right for citizens to express their opinion in a democratic state. He said that this right encompasses holding peaceful dharnas and demonstrations which would also be a crucial aspect of the right to freedom of speech and expression under the Article 19 (1) (a).
The MKSS also assailed the National Green Tribunal’s October 5 order banning protests at Jantar Mantar on the grounds that it creates a nuisance for the residents of the area and violates environment protection statutes, saying that it was in complete violation of a citizen’s fundamental right to peaceful assembly. “Distancing a protest site from where it is most visible to the government and concerned authorities, will have the effect of diluting the impact that the protest seeks to gain,” the PIL said, pointing out that Jantar Mantar has been the site for peaceful protests since 1993 and by the nature of the area, it is an easily managed and contained space.