Farmers have right to protest, but can't block roads indefinitely: Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court on Thursday said farmers protesting at Delhi borders against the three farms laws have the right to agitate but they cannot block roads indefinitely even as the farmer unions and government embroiled themselves in a blame game.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday said farmers protesting at Delhi borders against the three farms laws have the right to agitate but they cannot block roads indefinitely even as the farmer unions and government embroiled themselves in a blame game.

While the farmers' unions alleged that the police were responsible for the blockade as it suits them to allow a feeling in the minds of the citizens that farmers are blocking the road, the Centre said there was an oblique purpose behind the protests. During the hearing, a bench headed by Justice S K Kaul said it was not against the right to protest even when the legal challenge is pending but ultimately some solution has to be found.

"Farmers have the right to protest but they cannot keep roads blocked indefinitely. You may have a right to agitate in any manner but roads should not be blocked like this. People have the right to go on roads but it cannot be blocked," the bench also comprising Justice M M Sundresh said.

The top court asked the farmer unions to respond within three weeks on the issue and posted the matter for hearing on December 7. The bench noted that only four respondents have appeared before it in pursuance of its earlier direction.

The apex court said the issue is limited here, "So far as the road is concerned, can the road be blocked? "We are only concerned with the issue that the roads are not blocked. Law is laid down (Shaheen Bagh protests case). You have a right to agitate but you cannot block roads. People also have right on the roads," the bench said. Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, representing farmers' associations, said the right to protest is a fundamental right.

He said a large number of similar matters are pending before another bench of the apex court and this case should also be tagged along and be heard by the same bench. The senior advocate further alleged that roads were being blocked by the police and not farmers and said he has travelled six times on those roads. Dave said the simple solution to remove the blockade is that the police should allow farmers at Ramlila Maidan and Jantar Mantar.

"Roads are blocked by the police. After stopping us, the BJP had a rally at Ramlila Maidan (over the attack on Hindus in Bangladesh) where more than five lakh people came. Why should they be selective? Why don't the lordship take cognisance of that? This is the double standard" Dave said. "The solution is allow us to agitate at Jantar Mantar..." he said.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, however, submitted that there was an oblique purpose behind the protests and "sometimes it is felt the farmers' protest is not for the cause but for something else." "Last time they came (on Republic Day), it became a serious issue... something much more than a serious issue," the Solicitor General submitted.

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