The Supreme Court of India, in a landmark judgment, recently held in the case
of Amit Sahni vs. Commissioner of Police
(Civil Appeal 3282/2020) that
public ways and roads are not the places where protests should be carried out as
they cause hardships to the general public.
The 3-Judge bench held that right to protest, which is a fundamental right,
should not be utilized in a manner which would render the rights of other people
subservient to the rights of the protestors.The bench specified that such
legitimate and peaceful protest must be carried out in the areas which have been
designated for the purpose.
Another fact which was noted by the bench was that the manner in which protests
were carried out against an oppressive colonial government was not something
which could comfortably fit into a democratic setup.
The Court refused to accept the contention of the protesting people that since
right to protest is a fundamental right, any number of people can assemble in
any kind of public place, be it a road or another public place, and indefinitely
occupy it in the name of protest.
Another noteworthy judgment is the one passed in the case of Anita Thakur &
Ors. Vs. State of J & K &Ors
.1 . The SC categorically laid down in this case
that a significant feature of a democracy is the space offered for legitimate
dissent. However, the SC clarified that the right to peaceful protest, like any
other fundamental right, is not absolute in nature and can be restricted on the
ground of violation of the sovereignty and integrity of India and public order
as well as public safety.
The judgment, which was authored by Justice AK Sikri, stated that:
One of the cherished aspects of the political life in India is a tradition to
express grievances through direct action or peaceful protest. Organized,
non-violent protest were a key weapon in the struggle for independence, and the
right to protest is now recognized as a fundamental right in the Constitution.
A pertinent question which may come to the mind of a person discussing or
reading about right to process is that what kind of protests we can consider as
peaceful ones. Can assembling at a place in large numbers without arms and
protesting with nothing else apart from slogans itself render the protest
The answer would be an outright No
. Rights of lakhs of people cannot be
subject to the whims and fancies of a few thousands who seek to occupy public
places in large numbers for an indefinite period of time. No recognized right of
people, even if considered in the widest amplitude possible, can be permitted to
be unbridled, unrestricted and absolute. Any recognized right is and must be
subjected to legitimate restrictions to secure the balance of a democratic
setup. Rights cannot be considered in a stand-alone manner and used as a cover
to shrug off the responsibilities which come along with them.
The SC also referred to an earlier judgment delivered in the case of Himat
Lal K. Shah vs. Commissioner of Police
2, in which a five-judge Constitution
bench consisting of Justices SM Sikri, AN Ray, PJ Reddy, KK Mathew and MH Beg
struck down the rules framed by the Commissioner of Police for the city of
Ahmedabad on basis of Section 33 (1) (o) of the Bombay Police Act of 1951.
The Constitution Bench held that while State could impose only reasonable
restrictions, the appropriate authority could impose certain restrictions on the
right to protest in public roads in the interest of the general public and more
so for the maintenance of public order. The rules framed by the Commissioner of
Police for city of Ahmedabad in this case were sans specific provisions
regarding denial of permission to carry out the protest and hence, were held to
be outside the constitutionally permissible limits.
Another case referred to by the Bench is Mazdoor Kisan Sanghatan vs. Union of
3. In this case, the SC directed the police authority to frame rules
and proper and appropriate guidelines. for limited use of Jantar Mantar area for
protests and laid down a few factors to be considered while considering whether
or not to permit protests, such as the likely obstruction to traffic, any likely
offences against public tranquillity and damage to public safety etc.
In this context, it would be relevant to refer principles laid down by a
judgment of the Madras High Court in the case of Govt. of Tamil Nadu & Ors.
Vs. P. Ayyakannu
4, in which a Division Bench of Justice KK Sashidharan and
Justice R. Subramanian denied permission to carry out protest at Marina Beach.
In the Writ Appeal filed by the TN Government against the permission granted to
Mr.Ayyakannu to carry out peaceful hunger strike at Marina Beach, the DB held as
The protestors who claim to espouse the cause of the public, often forget that
their right to protest ends when other person's right to free movement and 'right
to not to listen to
A citizen has no fundamental right to insist that his speech should be heard by
an unwilling citizen. Similarly, it is not possible to compel a person to
witness a procession, against his wishes.
From the above mentioned rulings and principles, it is evident that the right to
protest, even if it is non-violent and peaceful must be legitimately restricted,
so as to protect the legitimate interests of persons who do not participate in
the protest. We do have right to protest and express our dissent in a democracy,
but the same does not grant us the Right to Obstruct with respect to the
liberties of others.
To conclude, I would like to mention a quote by legal philosopher Zechariah
Chafee Jr., which was published as part of an article in the Harvard Law Review
in 1919. Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man's nose
- Writ Petition (Criminal) 118 0f 2007, decided on 11TH August 2016
- AIR 1973 SC 87
- Writ Petition (Civil) 1153 of 2017, decided on 23rd July 2018
- Writ Appeal 1042 of 2018, decided on 3rd September 2018
Award Winning Article Is Written By: Mr.Pragadeesh Vishwanathan Iyer
Authentication No: OT31667645840-28-1020