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The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed the Delhi government to stop all demonstrations and protest-oriented activities on the Jantar Mantar road stretch.
The directions were passed in a judgment rendered by Judicial Member Justice RS Rathore with the assistance of expert member Dr. Satyawan Singh Garbyal.
As noted in the judgement, the Jantar Mantar road area had become a symbolic protest battle ground, although the same had been earmarked as a residential area.
Large crowds, inadequate measures to maintain hygiene, sound pollution amplified further by loud speakers, vehicular obstruction etc. thereby caused had constrained the residents in the area to approach the tribunal. This was after several other representations to concerned authorities and litigation in the matter had failed to yield satisfactory results.
Rejecting technical challenges made by the state, the NGT agreed with the petitioners that,
“The continuous activity of the protestors, agitators and dharna/processions for a number of years by now, the site has virtually become hell for the residents of the locality who cannot sleep at night, face noise pollution during the day, having difficulties in ingress and egress to their residences, much less to say, to take their vehicles up to their residences…”
The NGT placed special emphasis on the adverse health affects resulting from such protests, particularly on account of aggressive noise pollution. The NGT reiterated that the right to free speech and expression under Article 19 cannot encroach upon fundamental rights under Article 21,
“While one has a right to speech, others have a right to listen or decline to listen… If anyone increases his volume of speech and that too with the assistance of artificial devices so as to compulsorily expose unwilling persons to hear a noise raised to unpleasant or obnoxious levels then such person is violating the right of others to a peaceful, comfortable and pollution-free life. Article 19 cannot be pressed into service for defeating the fundamental right guaranteed by Article 21.“
In addition to these concerns, the NGT had also noted there were specific executive/judicial orders for the use of an alternate site for such protests i.e. the Ram Leela Maidan. Whereas earlier, protests used to be held at the Ram Leela Maidan, gradually they began to shift to the Boat Club lawns near India Gate.
When the traffic obstruction rose in this area however, an administrative order was passed by the Delhi Police to shift venue to Jantar Mantar Road. This itself was deemed to be improper by the NGT.
If the number of participants exceeded five thousand, then the Ram Leela Maidan was the designated protest site. However, the NGT noted,
“when the agitation consisting of thousands and thousands of people assemble on Jantar Mantar road, no one is there to check their total number and in case of exceeding five thousand, to send them to Ram Leela ground at Ajmeri Gate.”
Chiding the state for its failure to respond effectively to the concerns of the resident-citizens, the bench noted that the so called steps taken by the respondent State and its authorities are nothing but an eye wash.
“The net conclusion is that various authorities have been shifting their responsibilities on to the other and residents of Jantar Mantar road were being shunted from pillar to post, leaving them in a situation which is unimaginable and unheard of.”
The NGT thus proceeded to hold,
“The protest/dharna and agitation on the stretch on Jantar Mantar road is without any authorization or order from a competent authority, wholly illegal and in gross violation of laws, interalia, relating to pollution. The activities to have make shifts and temporary structures, use of loud speaker, public address system, etc., etc. are without permission from any competent authority and therefore the same is wholly illegal…use of the area by the protestors/agitators is violation of environmental laws including Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981.”
The NGT has directed that the government take measures to immediately stop all protest-oriented activities on Jantar Mantar Road. The Municipal Corporation is expected to remove all temporary structures, loud speakers and public address systems from the said stretch and clean the area as well. All protestors/agitators/dharna-holders are to be shifted to the alternative site at Ram Leela Maidan.
Read judgement below.