Right to free passage to be balanced with right to freedom of expression: HC on farmers' protest

One petitioner sought a stay on "obstructive" actions against the farmers' protest, while the other petition aimed to prevent highway blockades by protesters and ensure action against road blockades

File photo of farmers during a Kisan Sansad at Jantar Mantar
File photo of farmers during a Kisan Sansad at Jantar Mantar


The right of free passage of public at large is to be balanced with the right of freedom of speech and expression, the Punjab and Haryana High Court stated on Tuesday, 13 February while hearing two separate petitions pertaining to the farmers' 'Delhi Chalo' march.

"It is not disputed that the right of free passage of public at large is to be balanced with the right of freedom of speech and expression and that none of them existing in isolation can be put-forth so that the general public is not put to any inconvenience," stated the court.

With these observations, the bench of Acting Chief Justice GS Sandhawalia and Justice Lapita Banerji issued notices to the Centre, and the states of Haryana and Punjab, asking them to file status reports before February 15, the next date of hearing.

The court also directed that Kisan Mazdoor Morcha and Samyukta Kisan Morcha (non-political) and the Delhi Home Secretary be impleaded as respondents in the petitions.

One petitioner has sought directions from the court to stay all "obstructive" actions by the governments of Haryana, Punjab and Union government against the farmers' protest while the other petitioner has pleaded for directions to ensure no highway is blocked by the protesters and action against agitators for blocking the roads.

Farmers on Tuesday morning commenced their 'Delhi Chalo' march after a meeting with Union ministers over their demands, including legal guarantee to MSP for crops, which remain inconclusive.

The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (Non-Political) and the Kisan Mazdoor Morcha have announced that farmers will head to Delhi to press the Centre to accept their demands.

The court was hopeful that all parties would sit together to resolve the matter.

"Keeping in view the exigencies of the situation and the general hardship being caused to the public, the Court is sanguine that all the parties to the present dispute would make efforts to sit down and solve the problem and even if a demonstration has to take place, an area should be identified by both the States to allow peaceful agitation by the protestors," said the court in its order.

Deepak Sabharwal, Additional Advocate General, Haryana, submitted that maintaining law and order is the bounden duty of the state as such and therefore, Haryana has taken necessary precautions having received an advisory from the Union of India.

The administration has an apprehension that tractor-trollies have been modified to storm barricades and protestors are equipped for a long sit-out, submitted Sabharwal.

Punjab Advocate General Gurminder Singh submitted that they have not set up any barricades or hindrances to ensure free movements on the highways since the protest is peaceful.

However, the agitators, who have assembled, have yet to cross over into Haryana and their target is to reach New Delhi and are assembling in Punjab.

Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Additional Advocate General of India Satyapal Jain, who was representing the Centre, said the court has issued notices and fixed 15 February as the next date of hearing.

He submitted that three Union ministers held a meeting with the farmer leaders first on 8 February and then two ministers held another round of meeting on 12 February.

The government is ready for talks with the representatives of farmers on any issue, said Jain, adding that it has been the effort of the Centre to resolve issues through dialogue.

Haryana's Panchkula-based petitioner Uday Partap Singh sought directions from the court to stay all obstructive actions by the governments of Haryana, Punjab and Union government against farmers' protest.

In the plea, the petitioner submitted that the issue pertains to the unlawful sealing of the border between Haryana and Punjab, particularly at Shambhu near Ambala, by the Haryana authorities, with an apparent objective of preventing farmers from exercising their constitutional right to assemble and protest peacefully.

The petitioner further submitted that the actions of the Haryana authorities, including the suspension of mobile internet services and bulk SMS in Ambala, Kurukshetra, Kaithal, Jind, Hisar, Fatehabad, and Sirsa, exacerbate the situation, depriving the citizens of their right to information and communication.

The other petition filed by Arvind Seth has sought directions to the states of Punjab, Haryana, the Centre and the National Highway Authority of India to ensure that no highways and roads are blocked by protesters.

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Published: 14 Feb 2024, 8:20 AM