Farmers Protest: Roads cannot be blocked says Supreme Court

News Desk: The Supreme Court on Thursday firmly said public roads cannot be blocked even as the farmers’ side and government engaged in a verbal blame-game during a physical hearing on Thursday.

The farmers’ side, represented by senior advocate Dushyant Dave and advocate Prashant Bhushan, blamed the State for deliberately blocking the roads in order to turn public sentiments against them. They said the protesters should be allowed to enter Ram Lila Maidan and Jantar Mantar in the heart of the capital to continue their protests against the agricultural laws.

Countering, Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, for the State of Haryana, reminded the court about the Red Fort violence in January, which left several hundreds injured and others killed.

A Bench led by Justice S.K. Kaul acknowledged that “there is a problem with movement, we are not going to accept there is no problem”.

The Bench said a solution needed to be found for the nearly two-year impasse between the farmers and the government.

But the court said it had already laid down the law in the Shaheen Bagh protests case that the right to protest should not hamper the right to movement of the public.

“The law is laid down. There is no reason for the SC to lay down the law again and again… Ultimately, some solutions have to be found — roads cannot be blocked…” Justice Kaul noted.

Mr. Dave said the right to protest was a fundamental right. The roads were blocked by the police.

The senior lawyer took on a combative tone that the government’s view on violence by protesters seemed to skewed. He asked why farmers were not being allowed at Jantar Mantar when Tuesday saw massive protests organised by the ruling BJP in the area over the attack on Hindus in Bangladesh during Durga pooja.

“The solution is allow us to agitate at Jantar Mantar…” Mr. Dave said.

“Last time they came, it became a serious issue… something much more than a serious issue” Mr. Mehta submitted.

The law officer insinuated that “sometimes it is felt the farmers’ agitation is not for the cause but for something else…”

Mr. Dave retorted that the farmers felt the same way about the government’s agricultural laws.

“We also feel that the farm laws are not for the farmers but for something else… If you are going to make allegations against the farmers, we will make allegations against you” Mr. Dave turned to the Solicitor-General.

He repeated that the only solution to the problem would be to allow farmers entry to the Ram Lila Maidan.

Mr. Mehta said the Ram Lila Maidan “has become a permanent residence for many”.

He referred to how there was material to suggest that the protests were funded by anti-national elements.

So far, only four out of 43 farmers’ bodies and leaders have responded to the top court’s notice on a plea by a Noida resident to remove the blockades.

Mr. Dave told the Bench that a similar case was being heard by another Bench of the Supreme Court and this case should be transferred there.

The court issued notice on new petitions filed by other private citizens seeking the removal of the blockades.

The Bench posted the next hearing to December 7.