Farmers have right to protest, but they can’t block roads: Top Court

The Apex court, while listening upon the matter of protest by farmers, said that public roads can not be blocked in order to hamper free movement even as farmers and the Government verbally clashed during the physical hearing over who is responsible for the nearly two-year blockade.

Farmers, who were represented by senior Advocates Mr. Dushyant Dave and Mr. Prashant Bhushan, said that roads were deliberately blocked to tum public sentiments against them. They should be al-were not being allowed at Jantar Mantar when there were massive protests organized in the area over the attack on minority Hindus in Bangladesh during the festival of Durga Puja. “The solution is to allow us (farmers’) to agitate at Jantar Mantar,” he said.

Mr. Tushar Mehta, Solicitor General of India, submitted representing the Government stated, “Last time they came, it became a serious issue, something much more than a serious issue.” He also submitted that “sometimes it is felt the farmers’ agitation is not for the cause but for something else.”

Mr. Dave, in reply, retorted that farmers also felt the same way about the Government’s agricultural laws. He submitted, “We also feel that the farm laws are not for the farmers but for something else. If you are going to make allegations against the farmers, we will make allegations against you.” He emphasised that the only solution to the existing problem would be to allow farmers’ entry to the Ram Lila Maidan.

The Supreme Court had issued notice on new petitions filed by other private citizens seeking the removal of the blockades alleging that they faced difficulties and productivity had been hampered during the protest. For further hearing, the Bench has listed the matter on the 7th of  December.

Right to Protest

The right to protest is enshrined under Article 19(1) (a), Article 19(1) (b) and Article 19(1) (c) of the Constitution of India.

  1. Article 19(1) (a) guarantees the freedom of speech and expression;
  2. Article 19(1) (b) assures citizens the right to assemble peaceably and without arms.
  3. Article 19(1) (c) assures the right to form associations or trade unions

Reasonable restrictions: However, like other fundamental rights, the right to protest is also not absolute and also subject to reasonable restrictions mentioned under Article 19 (2) and 19 (3) on the following grounds;

  1. In the interests of the sovereignty & integrity of India,
  2. The security of the State,
  3. Friendly relations with foreign States,
  4. Violation of Public Order,
  5. Decency or morality or in relation to Contempt of court, defamation or incitement of an offence.

Supreme Court Judgements on Right to Protest

  • Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) vs Union of India (2018): The Supreme Court, in this case, upheld the fundamental right to peaceful protest and right to assembly but also ordered it to be regulated in such a manner so that there is no inconvenience to residents residing in the area of  Jantar Mantar road or to people working in the offices located nearby.
  • Ramlila Maidan Incident vs Home Secretary, Union of India (2012): In this case, the Supreme Court held that citizens are entitled to enjoy the fundamental right to peaceful protest and assembly, which is not subject to be curtailed by an arbitrary legislative or executive action.

Shaheen Bagh Judgement

  • The court, in this case, again reiritated the right to peaceful protest against the law but made it clear that public spaces and public ways and cannot be occupied and that too indefinitely.
  • The right to protest in a public place should be balanced with the right of the general public to move freely without hindrance.
  • Fundamental rights do not live in isolation. The right of the protester has to be balanced with the right of the commuter and has to co-exist in mutual respect.