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(Image Courtesy: Congress Party)
The major problem of human society is to combine that degree of liberty without which law is tyranny with that degree of law without which liberty becomes license”. 
Greek Philosopher, Heraclitus of Ephesus, stated this about 2600 years ago. His balanced vision is highly relevant to India where Freedom of Expression has blossomed into protest culture. This, in turn, endangers the liberty of others who want to carry on with their daily struggle for survival. 
Disruption, when accompanied by destruction, wreaks havoc on economy as happened during countless instances of riots since 1947. 
This right to disrupt other citizens’ right to work is best exemplified by Shaheen Bagh-branded protests across India. The hall-mark of these protests is grabbing of public spaces for days or months in total disregard for rights of other citizens. 
The protest culture is also articulated by Members of Parliament during each session. They do so by posing in front of Mahatma Gandhi’s Statue within Parliament complex.
The peaceful protests against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019 & CAA, 2003 often morph into riots and arson across India in recent months. CAA, 2003 envisaging creation of National Population Register (NPR) & National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC). NPR already exists & has to be updated. NRIC rules have not yet been notified. 
The first and the original Shaheen Bagh dharna on a major road was launched immediately after arson and stone-pelting indulged in a demonstration called by Jamia Millia University students. There were in fact two separate demonstrations – one from Jamia & other from Shaheen Bagh on 15th December 2019, if we recall news stories.
After riots & police’s entry into Jamia to chase & arrest rioters, protesting women sat on dharna on Shaheen Bagh road. Under a parallel initiative, hundreds of citizens gheraoed police headquarters for release of arrested accused rioters. The rest is history about Shaheen Bagh protests – dharna by women at strategic public places in several cities.
Indian authorities’ failure is replete with instances of so-called peaceful demonstrations, spinning out of control into dangerous riots, spilling blood on the roads and leaving a trail of massive destruction.  
Legal luminaries/reformers across the world invoke Heraclitus whenever they are faced with such challenges of reining in tyranny from either the law or the liberty.
Late Arthur T. Vanderbilt, President of the American Bar Association, quoted Heraclitus in 1938 to remind lawyers that the world continues to pursue this cherished ideal. Law Commission of India (LCI) invoked Heraclitus in its 2001 report on ‘Laws Relating to Arrest’. 
As put by LCI, “liberty along with equality is the most fundamental of human rights and the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution. Of equal importance is the maintenance of peace and law and order in the society. Unless there is peace, no real progress is possible. Societal peace lends stability and security to the polity”.
Unfortunately, disturb, destruct & demonise police (3D) strategy crafted by the vested interests takes a heavy toll of economic growth. It hampers fulfilment of aspirations of the citizens, thereby triggering more protests. It is cycle of protests exacerbating economic problems, leading to more protests. It is in such background that Mrs. Indira Gandhi was constrained to impose internal emergency in 1975. 
India might well be heading towards another emergency in future if right to dissent is abused to wreak more havoc on economy. The dissatisfied sections of the society must have faith in the Indian system, which, of course, needs a big jolt to improve its efficiency.  
Indian governance at national, state and at local levels should be made fully transparent for timely delivery of public services. The timelines for redressal of grievances should be fixed & enforced rigorously. This would minimize scope for protests. 
The same reforms mantra is relevant to the judiciary. There is no reason why Supreme Court can’t deliver timely verdicts on crucial issues such as Shaheen Bagh road grab, electoral bonds and CAA, 2019.  Reforming/restructuring Supreme Court’s working is, however, an old hat & requires separate analysis.  
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has not invoked Heraclitus’ vision at Shaheen Bagh. It has overlooked its own observations and judgments of high courts on abuse of freedom of expression.
on 10th February 2020, it declined to immediately order removal of protesters from Shaheen Bagh road. It, however, noted protesters cannot be allowed to block a public road indefinitely. The hearing in the case has been held a few times with protesters staying put.
Supreme Court went out of its way to appease Shaheen Bagh protesters into ending their road grab through tortuous parleys with its two interlocutors. The apex court is expected to resume hearing on this case later in this month. 
The Supreme Court’s present, stance is like pendulum swinging towards opposite end from its past, stern stance. Recall Supreme Court observations on conflict of rights made during January 2011. 
A two-member bench observed: “right to hold a public meeting” is inferior to the common man’s right to free movement. It made this observation while upholding Kerala High Court's 2010 verdict banning rallies, meeting on roads across the State. 
In November 2011, another two-member bench of Supreme Court, in a separate case, cautioned Government that it would order setting up of special courts to prosecute those who indulge in road & rail blockades & destruction of public & private property.
Consider now Kerala High Court verdict dated 22nd March 2012 on Kerala Public Ways (Restriction of Assemblies and Processions) Act, 2011. 
The High Court ruled: “Fundamental rights conferred under Article 19(1)(a) and (b) have to be synchronised with the right under Article 19(1)(d) which is possible only by prohibiting assembly and meetings on public roads and such restriction is justified under Article 19(2) of the Constitution. We, therefore, reject the argument of counsel for the second respondent that the public have a fundamental right to assemble and hold meeting on public road and road margins which necessarily involves traffic obstruction and risk to public life”.
It was further observed: “right of movement, whether by foot or by carriage, on public roads and foot paths is the fundamental right of the citizens of the country conferred under Article 19(1)(d) of the Constitution.”
The recollection of such judicial wisdom should convince apex court to reconsider current marginalization of the right of silent, non-protesting majority that values work. The silent majority wants to work in compliance with fundamental duties enshrined in the Constitution. 
The Apex Court should also not overlook that the right of the State (Centre & States combined) to generate revenue for development. It goes without saying that revenue generation is hampered when road and rail tracks are blocked and when public & private assets are torched & rendered useless. 
It is high time the apex court takes final call on this issue of balancing the rights of 1) protesters, 2) non-protesters and 3) the State. It should also balance rights of vocal activists by their compliance with their duties as specified in the Constitution. 
The Judiciary itself indeed needs a mid-course correction to end its overt bias towards liberty. This bias is perceived by many citizens as de facto licence to do what they please.  
The urgency of this issue can be gauged from the fact that protests invariably take the form of blocking road or rail tracks. A google search can throw up mind-blogging cases of citizens blocking road to demand redressal of issues. These range from personal grievances to local problems and to national hysteria such as fear about losing citizenship. 
If a person’s near or dear one goes missing, the family & friends block road, demanding police to quickly trace the missing person. Recall one such case of a girl missing from a Sohna village. It prompted villagers to block an arterial road for one hour, affecting traffic to Delhi, Gurgaon, Alwar, etc. on 24th May 2017.
Remember the five-hour traffic jam on Delhi-Noida roads on 23rd March 2018. It was created by family and friends of a school girl in Delhi’s Mayur Vihar by blocking Delhi-Noida Link road & DND Flyway. The protesters were demanding probe into suicide by girl due to alleged sexual & academic harassment by school staff. 
Residents resort to rasta roko to seek resolution of local problems such as power cuts & inflated bills by private developer-cum-manager of an apartment complex
Similarly, trade unions, farmers, political parties, etc often resort to State or national bandhs, hartals, chakka jams, rail & rasta roko, gherao state assembly/ Parliament or an Authority’s building. 
In fact, public invariably vents its anger against any road accident by burning vehicles and/or by blocking traffic. Both harassed public and police treat such temporary road blockages as one-off cases & forget. 
It is this expectation from public to bear & grin that has emboldened political, judicial, media and social activists to rationalize Shaheen Baghs’ encroachment of rights of non-protesters across India. 
The Supreme Court’s repeated postponement of its verdict on getting Shaheen Bagh road vacated can serve a dangerous precedent for future protests. This road and connected arterial roads in the region have remained closed since 15th December 2019.
This blockade might well turn out to be longer than 139-days blockade of national highway connecting Nagaland to Manipur in 2016-17. This blockade by a Nagaland entity crippled the economy of Manipur.
There would have been no need for wasting Apex Court & Delhi High Court's time on Shaheen Bag had Delhi Police (DP’s) implemented its own guidelines. These have been framed in accordance with directives from Supreme Court and judgments delivered by it and high courts over the years.
DP’s 2018 guidelines apply to protests at Jantar Mantar & Boat Club. Its 2012 & other guidelines apply to other parts of Delhi. Leave aside these details. Just refer to DP’s brief do’s and don’ts notification captioned ‘No Procession Without Permission’ on its website. 
A few don’ts are: 1) Don’t erect Shamiana/ Pandal etc in bye-lanes without clearance from police 2) Don’t occupy more than one fourth of the width of the road for procession and 3) Don’t use loudspeaker/ Public address/music system before 6 a.m.& after 10 p.m
The Notification declares: “In the event of non-compliance of any of the above conditions, the procession/ meeting/ gathering can be declared as unlawful and prosecution can be launched against the violators. Violation may attract contempt of court proceedings also”.
Laxity by both Judiciary & Executive in Shaheen Bagh case emboldened anti-CAA protesters to block three arterial roads in East Delhi on eve of US President Trump’s visit to India. 
These incidents inflamed passion on both anti and pro CAA camps, thereby triggering major riots in East Delhi on 24th and 25th February 2020. The bloodbath and extensive damage to property thus helped anti-CAA protesters to globalize India’s citizenship & illegal infiltration issues.  
Though police in States and Union Territories have laid elaborate guidelines to deal with such protests, their implementation or non-implementation hardly brings any respite to countless citizens whose fundamental right to move for work, etc is blocked. Has any court ever called petty street vendors to know how their right to life is compromised by bandhs? Are their rights inferior to rights of illegal aliens for whom anti-NPR protests have been masterminded? 
The Gauhati High Court last year ruled against bandhs and blockades. It declared them illegal and unconstitutional. It ordered the creation of a fund to recover losses during such agitations from the organisers.
It observed: “Road blockades and rail blockades are nothing but variants of bandh; therefore, those are also illegal and unconstitutional”.
The Central Government needs to pull up its socks in management of both peaceful and violent protests. It must launch national awareness campaign against rail and road blockades. These have so far been likened to satyagraha launched against British Rule. The comparison is uncalled for as the existing Governments are formed with public’s choice expressed through elections. 
The medium of redressal of grievances must shift from blockades & riots to multiple and effective dispute redressal mechanism. The Judiciary must learn to give time-bound verdicts to regain declining faith of public in Rule of the Law.
It is apt to conclude with a quote from Odisha Home Department to underscore the need to prevent periodic choking of work culture by protest culture.
In a gazette notification dated 4 November 2015 standard operating procedure (SPO) on managing bandhs, the Department said: “The Rights of a group of people cannot be subservient to the claim of Fundamental Rights of an individual or a section of the people. Therefore, it is not considered to be lawful to call or enforce Rail/Rasta Roko which interfere with the exercise of the freedom of other people. Further, such action results in national loss in many ways”.
It added: “In order to impose one’s own point of view or to press one’s demand, however reasonable it may be, Bandh/Rail/Rasta Rokos have become an insidious tool. Apart from causing extensive damage to local and State’s economy, such actions cause untold miseries to community at large”.
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