Amit Sahni v. Commissioner of Police [2020 SCC OnLine SC 808]


Background of the Case:

The case was related to the Shaheen Bagh protest, it clearly states that public areas cannot be occupied indefinitely for expressing dissent. Article 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(b) of the Constitution of India states that freedom of speech and expression and to assemble peacefully without arms. Thus, it mentions that freedom is absolute but certainly reasonable restrictions are made under clauses 2 & 3 allows a state to make laws in regards to reasonable restrictions for maintaining foreign relations, sovereignty, integrity, and public order of India. The protest faced by the government against the Citizenship Amendment Act in February 2020. The Special leave petition was filed before the Supreme Court of India. Thus, the petition was filed to remove the protestors from Shaheen Bagh and to remove protestors from public places that were occupied by protestors.

Facts of the Case:

The Central Government passed the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 which led to protest in different parts of the country. In December 2019 protestors made protests that led to the closure of Shaheen Bagh in Delhi. On 14th January 2020, a writ petition was filed in the High Court of Delhi against the protest that contends the public place which was not permitted to have encroached in the above matter. The High Court directs respondent authorities to take necessary steps but no such direct order or direction was passed.

However, Advocate Amit Sahni (appellate) filed the present appeal in the Supreme Court against the order of the High Court that argues for the removal of the protest. Such intervention applications were also filed by parties who favoured the protestors. The Supreme Court appointed two interlocutors to mediate the issue with the protestors but those efforts were not successful, due to the spread of coronavirus, the area of Shaheen Bagh was clear. The applicants contend an absolute right to protest both in respect of Article 19(1)(a) & 19(1)(b) of the Constitution of India. 

Issue:

Whether public places can be occupied by protestors?

Obiter Dicta:

The present case filed for the violation of a fundamental right that infringes each individual or class of people. Advocate Amit Sahni is a social activist who approached the Delhi High Court on 14th January 2020. He complains that the Shaheen Bagh had blocked several roads including the Okhla underpass for a period of 30 days. The counsel for protestors argued that Article 19(1) (a) & 19(1)(b) provides an absolute right to peaceful protest and protestors should vacate public places. The state could only impose certain reasonable restrictions on the grounds of public order. He pleads to Delhi Police to vacate the place and resolve the problem of the public. The court ordered the authorities to address the concerned matter of the petitioner by taking necessary steps as per the policies in place. The court ordered that the authorities ensure that their decisions should be made in the larger public interest and obey the law and order. Further, the petitioner filed an appeal to the Supreme Court on 20th January 2020 as the situation remains the same. 

Held:

The Court ruled that democracy and dissent are an asset to each other, but demonstrations expressing dissent have to be in designated places alone. The present case involved a blockade of a public road which caused grave inconvenience to commoners.

The court held that the plea of the applicants is indeterminable among people of India that have the right to protest. The plea acknowledged that the right to protest is a fundamental right for citizens of India. Further, the court stated that the mode and manner of dissent against the colonial rule cannot be equated with dissent in a self-ruled democracy.

Conclusion:

The given matter before the court was related to the right to protest under part III of a fundamental right. The court held that the plea of the applicants is indeterminable among people of India that have the right to protest. The court accepted that India gained its freedom through protest against colonial rule.

Under Article 19(1)(a) & 19(1)(b), citizens have a right to protest and dissent against the state. These rights must be respected and encouraged by the state for democratic India, but certain reasonable restrictions should be made that include the interest of the integrity, sovereignty, and public order of India.

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