Hearing two differing petitions on farmers not being able to exercise their right to protest and the inconvenience caused to the people by their ‘Delhi Chalo’ march, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has called for an amicable settlement by all parties and said that law and order should be maintained.
The court has sought a status report on the protest — which has resulted in chaos on the borders between Punjab and Haryana, Delhi and Haryana and a traffic mess on the Delhi-UP border — from the Centre and the governments of Punjab and Haryana. It has also made the Delhi government a party to the petitions and will hear its side during the next hearing on Thursday.
In Tuesday’s hearing, a bench of Acting Chief Justice GS Sandhawalia and Justice Lapita Banerji said, “There has to be balance in the fundamental right to speech and expression, no right exists in isolation. The issue should be resolved amicably between all parties and areas should be identified by the states where the protest can be held… Use of force should be the last resort.”
‘Right To Free Movement’
Two PILs have been filed in the court in connection with the march. The first petition argued that, India being a democratic republic, preventing farmers from reaching Delhi and protesting is a violation of their right to free movement, freedom of expression and right to peaceful protest.
It also sought the lifting of internet suspension in seven districts of Haryana and pointed out that prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code have been imposed in 15 districts of the state.
Pointing to reports of barbed wires being put up and nails being laid down on some roads, the petitioner said fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution have been violated with the government stopping the farmers at various borders. The petition also highlighted that the Supreme Court has upheld the right to protest and assist in peaceful protests.
‘Cannot Cause Inconvenience’
The other PIL, filed by a lawyer, Arvind Seth, argued that thousands of vehicles are moving towards Delhi and said that no one should be allowed to block national highways. The petition claimed that people are facing inconvenience and even those going to hospitals are having trouble.
“They (the farmers) can oppose the policies of the government but they cannot do so anywhere they choose and cause inconvenience to the public,” the petition said.
The lawyer representing the Centre said the government is ready for negotiations with the farmers, including on their key issue of a law on minimum support price. The lawyer pointed out that a committee on MSP had been formed in 2022 and the farmers had not sent their representatives. “Meetings can be held with the protesting farmers’ representatives in Chandigarh,” the lawyer added.
Acting Chief Justice Sandhawalia then asked the Haryana government why it had blocked the borders when the farmers were passing through the state, and observed that they have the right to come and go. The state responded that it had to maintain law and order since there was a call to gather 5 km before the Delhi border and claimed that the farmers’ tractors have been modified to include weaponry.
It pointed out that Section 144 has been in force in parts of the state since the last farmers’ protest, where there had been some “criminal incidents” in Haryana.
The Punjab government, on the other hand, said there was merit in the farmers’ demands and that it would allow peaceful protests. It said adequate arrangements have been made for crowd control.
After hearing all sides, the court said the protesting farmers have rights but the State also has to take steps to protect people on the roads, who have rights too. It said Punjab and Haryana should ensure that the protest is held only in designated places and urged all parties to resolve the issue amicably before adjourning the matter till Thursday.