Farmers have right to protest but can’t block roads indefinitely, says Supreme Court | India News – Times of India


NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Thursday said farmers have a right to protest against the three new farm laws even when their validity is under challenge before the apex court but was firm in its view that no one could be permitted to block roads indefinitely, impeding the right of citizens to commute without hindrance.
Of the 43 farmer unions made parties to a petition seeking removal of farmers staging protests on highways at border points of Delhi with neighbouring states, only four — Rakesh Tikait of Bharatiya Kisan Union, Gurbax Singh of Jaikisan Andolan, Punjab, Balbir Singh of BKU-Rajewal and Hanan Mollah of Kul Hind Kisan Sangharsh Talmel (Coordination) Committee, Delhi — appeared before the court through senior advocate Dushyant Dave and lawyer Prashant Bhushan.
Dave first cited a January (2021) order of a three-judge bench of the SC, which had stayed enforcement of farm laws and said that farmers had a right to protest as long as it was peaceful.
Second, he sought to raise issues of judicial propriety, saying when the matter is pending before a three-judge bench, a two-judge bench should not take it up. “This bench should send these petitions before the three-judge bench,” Dave said.
The third limb of his argument was that the farmers have not blocked the roads. “It is police which has erected barricades to prevent them from reaching Ramlila Maidan in Delhi to stage protests against the farm laws. This has caused the road blockade. Why can’t the authorities allow the farmers to stage protests at Ramlila Maidan?” Dave asked.
The bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and C T Ravikumar said that the law has been clearly laid down in the Shaheen Bagh case that protesters cannot block roads and highways indefinitely to deprive the right of commuters to move freely. “We are not dealing with the main issue (the validity of the farm laws). We are on a small point — whether protesters can indefinitely block the roads. According to our judgment, the law is already laid down. There is nothing more to be said on the issue,” it said.
Taking up cudgels with Dave, solicitor general Tushar Mehta said Dave and Bhushan had appeared for farmers’ unions before the same three-judge bench and advanced arguments in January 2020. But when it came to the day of passing orders after hearing parties, the two lawyers along with their colleagues were missing from the court, which was recorded in the order.
Taking a dig at Dave’s argument to allow farmers to protest at Ramlila Maidan in the heart of Delhi, Mehta said, “Some people should be allowed a permanent residence at Ramlila Maidan.” He went on to narrate the violence unleashed on the streets during the tractor rally on Republic Day despite assurances given by Bhushan on behalf of the farmers that the event will be peaceful.
Disallowing the proceedings from getting mired in jibes and counters between Dave and the Mehta, the bench said, “Some solution has to be found. Farmers have a right to protest. But the roads cannot be blocked indefinitely as people have a right to travel on them.”
The bench permitted the four farmer leaders on behalf of their unions to file their responses to the petitions in four weeks. It allowed the Haryana and UP governments to file their rejoinder in two weeks and posted the matter for further hearing on December 7.
On the repeated plea of Dave that the two-judge bench should send the present case to the three-judge bench which is seized of the main matter relating to the validity of the three farm laws, the bench said it would consider this argument after the responses were filed.
On January 12, four lawyers — Dushyant Dave, Prashant Bhushan, Colin Gonsalves and H S Phoolka — had inexplicably absented themselves before the SC, less than 24 hours after promising to get back with the response of the unions on their willingness to appear before the proposed committee on farm laws. Bhushan, Gonsalves and Phoolka had told a bench headed by then CJI S A Bobde on January 11 that Dave was leading the quartet, who had been engaged by the eight farmers’ unions as counsel to apprise the SC about their views.
Dave, who had initially informed the court that the farmers would not hold a tractor rally on Republic Day, had sought time till Tuesday for taking instructions from the farmers on this issue as well.
None of the four logged in to the video-conference hearing before the CJI’s court during the nearly one-and-a-half-hour-long proceedings on January 12. The CJI had vented his anguish at the lack of courtesy on the part of four seasoned lawyers to at least appear before the court as promised and apprise it about the stand of the farmers’ unions.
“Members of the bar, who are first officers of the court and then the counsel for their clients, are expected to show some loyalty (towards the court). You will appear before the court when it suits you and not come if it does not suit you. You cannot do that,” the CJI had said.

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