The Supreme Court on Monday asked senior advocate Sanjay Hegde to "play a constructive role as an interlocutor" to persuade the protestors at Delhi's Shaheen Bagh to move to an alternative site. The blockade of public road at Shaheen Bagh is "troubling us", the court said on Monday and suggested that the anti-CAA protestors go to another site where no public place would be blocked.
It said Hegde can take assistance of advocate Sadhana Ramachandran and former Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah for talking to the protesters.
People have a fundamental right to protest "peacefully and lawfully" but blocking public roads and places is a matter of concern as it might lead to "chaotic situation", the apex court said, stressing that there has to be a "balancing factor".
"Democracy works on expression of views but there are lines and boundaries for it," a bench of Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph said, adding, "The question which is arising is where to protest."
"Our concern is if everybody starts blocking public areas then where will it end," the bench asked, while hearing pleas seeking removal of protestors from Shaheen Bagh and ensuring smooth traffic flow in the area.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Delhi government and Delhi Police, told the court that the solution is to remove these protestors from the site.
When the bench asked Hegde to talk to protestors, Mehta said, "Let a message not go that every institution is kneeling on its knees in trying to persuade them... I do not want a message to go that we are praying to them to remove".
The bench, however, observed, "We want to solve the problem and we have expressed our opinion. If nothing works, we will leave it to the authorities to deal with the situation". The bench also asked Mehta whether an alternative site can be given to the protestors to hold their agitation.
"It is unfortunate that we have to make designated area for protests like Jantar Mantar. We have so many professional protestors," Mehta said.
"It is important to allow people to protest," the bench said, adding, "The right to protest is recognised world over, more particularly in India. There is a fundamental right to assemble peacefully to protest".
At the outset, the bench said people or any section of the society have a right to protest against a law and they also have the right to express their grievance against it.
When the bench was informed that children were not able to go to schools due to the protest, the bench said, "There must be a balancing factor. You may protest, may be, somewhere else. If this (blockade of public place during protests) applies to other places, this may lead to chaos".
"Somebody who may not be on the same page as you may get an idea to start a protest somewhere else? Then where do we end?" the bench said adding, the people may "emulate" Shaheen Bagh also.
Restrictions have been imposed on the Kalindi Kunj-Shaheen Bagh stretch and the Okhla underpass, which were closed on December 15 last year due to protests against CAA and National Register of Citizens.
The apex court was hearing an appeal filed by advocate Amit Sahni, who had approached the Delhi High Court seeking directions to Delhi Police to ensure smooth traffic flow on the Kalindi Kunj-Shaheen Bagh stretch, which was blocked by anti-CAA protesters on December 15 last year.
The court's appointment of two interlocutors to persuade the Shaheen Bagh protesters to move to another venue brought a little disappointment to the demonstrators, though many of them believe there is finally an avenue to talk to the government about their dissent.
Hundreds of people, especially women, have been camping at Shaheen Bagh here for over two months in protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act, blocking an arterial road due to which the city has been facing traffic congestions.
A section of the women protesters said the tent put up by them symbolised the venue as their "battleground for justice and equality". They said they were not averse to the idea of moving but first demanded detailed talks with the government on the CAA.
"We started our protest on December 15 when the students at Jamia Millia Islamia were beaten up miserably by police. We won't be too happy to move but since it is the court's decision, we will accept it with full respect," said Shaheeda Khan, a resident of Batla House.
"However, moving the point of protest won't be a decision accepted by all," she added.
Ritu Khosla from the Shaheen Bagh Coordination Committee told PTI, "The SC's decision is welcome and we fully accept it. We will be happy to meet the mediators who have been appointed by the apex court. I don't know if the protesters would agree to move. The decision to change the venue of the protest will entirely depend on the joint decision taken by all protesters of Shaheen Bagh."
The famous grandmothers or 'dadis' of Shaheen Bagh welcomed the decision saying they now expect genuine mediation with the government.
"We have wanted to talk to the government for two months. We tried various times to have a dialogue and marched towards the home minister's house too. However, the police always stopped us. We are ready to talk but there should be a genuine interaction and mediation between us and the government," Sharvari Dadi of Shaheen Bagh said.
The Shaheen Bagh protestors had marched towards Union Home Minister Amit Shah's residence on February 16 seeking to talk to him about the new citizenship law. They were stopped by Delhi Police midway. The march had included senior citizen women, popularly known as the 'Dabangg Dadis' of Shaheen Bagh.
The men at Shaheen Bagh said the SC's decision had brought a small but important victory for the protesters as the Centre will now have to talk to them.
"We are happy that at least the SC thought that there should be a dialogue because the government has been avoiding a dialogue. The government may think that removal of the protest point is their victory but the victory is ours because now we will directly talk and bring a solution in rolling back the CAA," Azim Khan, a resident and shop keeper at Shaheen Bagh, said.
With PTI inputs