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Permitting dharnas in residential areas could set wrong precedent: Delhi HC

PTI     December 17, 2020

The Delhi High Court on Thursday expressed concern over the continuing protest outside Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's residence in Delhi, saying permitting such demonstrations in a residential area could set a wrong precedent.

Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva said today the protest may be peaceful, but if a precedent is set, then anyone would come and squat there as they do in areas, like Ramlila ground or Jantar Mantar here, which are designated spots for holding protests.

"There is no problem if you come, protest and then go away. But this is going on for 11 days continuously. Once you set a precedent, anyone will come and squat there. If this is permitted for all time to come, then you know what is the state of certain areas, like Ramlila ground and Jantar Mantar, where squatting and protests are permitted. We cannot have that kind of a situation in a residential colony," the court said.

The concerns were expressed by the court while hearing a plea by the Civil Lines Residents Association against the 11-day long protest outside the CM's residence there on grounds that it was blocking a road and causing inconvenience to residents there.

The association has contended that protest has been permitted in a residential area and roads leading there have been barricaded in violation of the high court's 2017 direction to restrict dharnas in residential areas and to keep the roads clear.

The mayors of the three municipal corporations have been protesting outside Kejriwal's residence seeking release of funds and clearance of alleged pending dues payable to the MCDs.

The court, during the hearing, observed that tents have come up in the area and there were news reports which stated that the mayors were going to run their offices from there.

The court asked the Delhi Police how offices can be run from there and also what arrangements were in place for the protestors to go about their daily routines like answering nature's call.

It said that while holding protests or dharnas was a fundamental right, people cannot be "squatting in a residential area".

The court told the government that things should not "go to such an extent where their (protestors) right to protest gets hampered".

It asked the government whether some arrangement can be made for the protestors.

Meanwhile, a resident of the area who lives adjacent to the CM's residence, told the court there was no interference or disturbance by the protestors and that the road in front of Kejriwal's home was clear.

He also said the protestors were using toilets at the nearby Ambedkar Memorial for answering nature's call..

Responding to the submissions by the resident, the court said if public dealings or offices are run from there, then the office staff would be there, the general public would come there and "then the right to protest gets hampered".

"Public functionaries deal with all kinds of people. Today it is one group of people who are protesting, the staff is protesting. Tomorrow it will be another group of people. Today the protest is peaceful. But once a precedent is set, tomorrow there will be another group of people protesting there and then you will come running," the court said to the colony resident who said no disturbance was being caused by the protestors.

The court said it will hear the matter on Friday as it needed to go through the status report filed by the police.

Also read: 'Acknowledge right to protest but can't block a city,' says Supreme Court on farmers' protest

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