Amit Sahni v. Commissioner Of Police & Ors.
CIVIL APPEAL NO. 3282 OF 2020 decided on October 7, 2020
Bench: Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Aniruddha Bose, Krishna Murari, JJ.
There have been protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act,2019 in Delhi and in different parts of the country. The protestors adopted a method of protest which resulted in the closure of the Kalindi Kunj-Shaheen Bagh stretch, including the Okhla underpass from 15.12.2019.
Whether the protestor can occupy public way in such manner so as amounting to its closure?
The Supreme Court held that it does not have any hesitation in concluding that such kind of occupation of public ways, whether at the site in question or anywhere else for protests is not acceptable and the administration ought to take action to keep the areas clear of encroachments or obstructions. The Court further said that it has no doubt that it is the responsibility of the authorities to take suitable action, but then such suitable action should produce results. In what manner the administration should act is their responsibility and they should not hide behind the court orders or seek support therefrom for carrying out their administrative functions. The courts adjudicate the legality of the actions and are not meant to give shoulder to the administration to fire their guns from.
The Court, furthermore, said that our Constitutional scheme comes with the right to protest and express dissent, but with an obligation towards certain duties. Article 19, one of the cornerstones of the Constitution of India, confers upon its citizens two treasured rights, i.e., the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) and the right to assemble peacefully without arms under Article 19(1)(b). These rights, in cohesion, enable every citizen to assemble peacefully and protest against the actions or inactions of the State. The same must be respected and encouraged by the State, for the strength of a democracy such as ours lies in the same. These rights are subject to reasonable restrictions, which, inter alia, pertain to the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India and public order, and to the regulation by the concerned police authorities in this regard. Additionally, as was discussed in the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan v. Union of India & Anr (2018) 17 SCC 324, each fundamental right, be it of an individual or of a class, does not exist in isolation and has to be balanced with every other contrasting right. It was in this respect, that in this case, an attempt was made by us to reach a solution where the rights of protestors were to be balanced with that of commuters.