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Blocking roads may lead to people going hungry in Delhi, merely sitting in protest will not help: CJI on farmer protests

The CJI added that the purpose of the protest would be fulfilled by talking and not by just sitting in protest.

While hearing a petition challenging the farmer protests against the three farm laws on the basis of the fundamental right of citizens to move, the Supreme Court remarked that the right to protest is a fundamental right but it cannot affect the other fundamental rights including the right to life of others. During yesterday’s hearing, the Supreme Court had said that the negotiations between the government did not work and asked the farmer unions to be impleaded so that their side could be heard.

Senior Lawyer Harish Salve said right to protest not absolute

During the oral submissions, senior lawyer Harish Salve appearing on behalf of the petitioner contended that the blockage of roads due to farmer protest, the supply chain has been interrupted leading to price rise in the national capital. He said that no fundamental right is absolute and that the “right to protest cannot be extended to holding a city to ransom”.

Responding to Salve’s submission, Chief Justice of India SA Bobde clarified that the court recognised the fundamental right to protest but it cannot affect other fundamental rights.

Advocate Salve urged the Court that the farmer unions should be held responsible for the acts of the crowds gathered in the protest. He said that the government should put in place a protocol for asking protesting individuals to identify themselves so that they can be held accountable for damages.

The CJI proposed an independent impartial committee

The CJI said that the purpose of the protest could only be achieved through dialogue. While asking the police to refrain from using force, he proposed an independent impartial committee that could hear both the parties and give its opinion. The CJI said that meanwhile the protests could continue in a non-violent manner and asked the government not to instigate violence. The court named journalist P Sainath to be included in the committee along with BKU and other stakeholders.

Responding to the submissions of senior lawyer P Chidambaram, who appeared on behalf of Punjab government, about the farmers being stopped by police, the CJI said that court could not predict whether a mob would turn violent or not. He said that it must be left to the authorities to decide.

The CJI on road blockage by farmers

Lawyer appearing for the Bharatiya Kisan Union said that the farmers stopped the starvation of the country and not multinational companies. To this the CJI responded that Delhi would go hungry if farmers blocked the roads. The CJI added that the purpose of the protest would be fulfilled by talking and not by just sitting in protest.

The CJI recalled how 1997 farmer protest near Boat Club would have potentially destroyed everything if not for the rift that appeared among them.

The CJI asked the Attorney General whether the central government could give a commitment that the farm laws will not be implemented while the matter was being heard in the court. To this the Attorney General expressed difficulty. The CJI then asked the Attorney General whether the government could assure that no executive action would be taken under the laws in order to facilitate negotiations. The Attorney General said that he could tell only after taking instructions from the government.

The CJI said that the court will pass an order that the parties should be served and that they are at the liberty to move Vacation Bench.

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