Millennium Post

In citizen's interest

There is no doubt that the continuous sit-in protest since mid-December has given a hard time to commuters in the surrounding area. The Shaheen Bagh-Kalindi Kunj stretch has been closed down since December 15, 2019, by the Delhi Police in the wake of anti-CAA protests led by women. Since that period, tremendous traffic has been redirected to alternative roads. The Delhi-Noida-Delhi (DND) flyway has been primarily affected as it serves as a prime alternative route for commuters travelling to Delhi from Noida and vice versa. There have been 15-30 minute delays usually, while rush hours have witnessed delays up to an hour due to all the traffic being redirected to DND-Ashram stretch. In fact, for a person to travel to Sarita Vihar from Noida, s/he has to take DND and then Mathura Road from Ashram to reach there rather than taking the Kalindi Kunj bridge over the Yamuna — which was renovated last year to de-congest the route. Travel time increases due to longer distance and immense traffic. DND serves as the only suitable alternative to Kalindi Kunj bridge as going via Mayur Vihar and Akshardham will account for a detour of at least 10 kilometres. It is only pertinent to resolve the issue. The Supreme Court's acknowledgement of the fact that roads cannot be blocked indefinitely is precise. In fact, it is rather a surprise that the Court took so long to assert that but it had rightfully deferred the plea that cited difficulties to local residents, businesses and commuters due to the closure of Road No 13A between Mathura Road and Kalindi Kunj by police to February 10 in the wake of Delhi elections. However, now that it has taken up the matter, it remains important to consider the reason for road blockade as well as alternatives that can be pursued. The bench of justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph were of the opinion that people are entitled to protest but should do so in an area designated for agitation. It asserted that protest can't be at the cost of citizen's interests. But having said that, it is indirectly assuming the responsibility to designate a place for the protest at Shaheen Bagh that has also become a symbol across India. Designating a protest site can also be redirecting protests to an isolated corner where the purpose of these protests may largely be defeated. As it is the Central government has refused to pay heed to those. In the 50 days or more since Shaheen Bagh became the epicentre of anti-CAA agitation, the elected representatives of the government of India have only criticised the assembly instead of addressing their concerns. When campaigns for Assembly elections in the National Capital spiralled, all that the Central government leaders had to offer was condemnable statements. The Centre's ignorance of Shaheen Bagh and protestors only exhibits callous regard for citizen's interest. As the competent authority, the Centre ought to have made attempts to resolve the matter, designate a protest site or at least made the Shaheen Bagh road somewhat functional. Not very far from Shaheen Bagh is Jamia Milia Islamia — another hotspot for anti-CAA agitation led by students. However, in contrast to Shaheen Bagh, protestors outside University's Gate number 7 have demarcated space for their protest while leaving space for traffic to flow. The same could have been done in Shaheen Bagh wherein one side of the road — which is thronged by protestors — could be demarcated for protests as the other side is functional for traffic. But that is not what happened. Delhi Police, under the pretence of securing protestors and avoiding probable difficulties that may arise due to sit-in protest, decided to barricade the entire road. At least two-wheelers and three-wheelers could definitely pass if not four-wheelers. Arrangements could be made in a country that has known very high per capita population density since time immemorial.

While the Court's intention is to resolve the traffic issue, it must take into consideration the pretext of Shaheen Bagh protest — which cannot happen at an isolated corner. While the crux of the agitation — CAA — will be heard by the constitutional bench on February 22, the Court must take cognisance of the fact that the Centre — who is the competent authority over Delhi Police — did very little when it came to other citizens' interest. In fact, it took measurable steps to quash protests, detaining protestors and transporting them to distant locations away from the protest sites. But they did not do so at Shaheen Bagh since protests at a corner of the city probably did not make as much difference for them as it did for citizens. To only make matters worse, Shaheen Bagh ended up becoming a poll plank for BJP in the Assembly polls. The selective treatment towards protests apparently gives out a politically motivated agenda which the Court ought to consider before pronouncing judgment in the matter on February 17.

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