In a major development, the Hyderabad High Court on Tuesday ordered the Telangana police to reopen Dharna Chowk in the heart of the state's capital for six weeks, to allow protest meetings and rallies.
A division bench comprising of Chief Justice Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan and Justice S V Bhatt was dealing with Public Interest Litigations (PILs) filed by senior Congress leader V. Hanumantha Rao, Ch Venkat Reddy from the CPI and Professor Visweshwara Rao.
The court passed an interim order, observing that protests were an integral part of the right to assemble and added that dissenting voices could not be suppressed in a democracy.
The state's counsel argued that the Chowk was situated close to a residential area and also cited security problems as it was very close to the secretariat. The counsel also said that they had proposed an alternative protest site near Saroornagar stadium.
After hearing all sides, the court postponed the matter for further hearing in six weeks.
'Dharna Chowk' had been the venue of thousands of protests by political parties, people's organisations, students' groups, employees' unions and others for over two decades and the state government’s decision to close it down and shift it, has been a contentious one from the start.
Last year, Chief Minister Chandrasekhar Rao had defended the police's move to shift 'Dharna Chowk' to the outskirts of the city saying that some parties were deliberately creating problems in the name of protests.
Proposing a handful of alternate sites on the outskirts of the city, CM KCR had argued that the venue of protests did not matter, since the Opposition would be able to highlight issues through the media.
However, opposition parties and activists pointed out that KCR himself, had repeatedly protested at Dharna Chowk during the Telangana agitation for separate statehood and accused him of trying to curb dissent.