Supreme Court says farmers have right to protest but can’t block roads


The Hindu

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Supreme Court says farmers have right to protest but can’t block roads

The Supreme Court on Thursday saw the farmers’ side and the government engage in a verbal clash during a physical hearing. Farmers, represented by senior advocate Dushyant Dave and advocate Prashant Bhushan, said roads were deliberately blocked in order to turn public sentiments against them. The protesters should be allowed to enter the Ram Lila Maidan and Jantar Mantar to continue their protests against the agricultural laws.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for Haryana, reminded the court about the Red Fort violence in January that left several hundreds injured and others killed. A Bench led by Justice S.K. Kaul acknowledged that “there is a problem with movement, we are not going to accept there is no problem”. It stated that a solution needed to be found for the nearly two-year impasse between farmers and the government.

The court noted that it had laid down the law in the Shaheen Bagh protests case that the right to protest should not hamper the right to movement of the public. Justice Kaul observed, “The law is laid down. There is no reason for the SC to lay down the law again and again... Ultimately, some solutions have to be found — roads cannot be blocked...”

Dave contended that the right to protest was a fundamental right. The roads were blocked by police. The government’s view on violence by protesters seemed to be skewed. He asked why farmers were not being allowed at Jantar Mantar when Tuesday saw massive protests organised by the BJP in the area over the attack on Hindus in Bangladesh during Durga pooja. “The solution is to allow us to agitate at Jantar Mantar...”

Mehta submitted, “Last time they came, it became a serious issue... something much more than a serious issue”. He insinuated that “sometimes it is felt the farmers’ agitation is not for the cause but for something else...”

Dave retorted that farmers felt the same way about the government’s agricultural laws. “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 repeated that the only solution to the problem would be to allow farmers’ entry to the Ram Lila Maidan.

Mehta said the Ram Lila Maidan “has become a permanent residence for many”. He referred to how there was material to suggest that the protests were funded by anti-national elements.

So far, only four out of 43 farmers’ bodies and leaders have responded to the top court’s notice on a plea by a Noida resident to remove the blockades. Dave told the Bench that a similar case was being heard by another Bench and this case should be transferred there.

The court issued notice on new petitions filed by other private citizens seeking the removal of the blockades. The Bench posted the hearing on December 7.

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