Supreme Court upholds right to peaceful protest

Supreme Court upholds right to peaceful protest



The Supreme Court heard the appeal filed by the Government of Madhya Pradesh (GoMP) against the Judgement of the Madhya Pradesh High Court (Principal Bench: Jabalpur) directing the Government to pay Rs. 10,000/- to each Narmada Satyagrahi (more than Rs 9 lakhs in total), who, while peacefully protesting against injustice through displacement without rehabilitation were subjected to ruthless police force, lathi charge and illegal detention.

Justice Rajinder Sacher pleaded the case very strongly on behalf of Medha Patkar and Narmada Bachao Andolan, vocally defending the Judgement of the High Court and the people’s right to protest peacefully when no brutal force becomes justifiable. The Interim Order delivered by Justice P. Sathasivam upholding the High Court Judgement partially directed the GoMP to immediately (within four weeks) pay Rs. 5000/- to each Satyagrahi totaling Rs. 4.5 lakhs.

The Sardar Sarovar Project affected adivasis and farmers: women, men and children of District Jhabua (now Alirajpur) and Badwani had camped at the Government lands of Krishi Vigyan Kendra as Satyagrahis, demanding the right to land for rehabilitation and right to life in July 2007. During the peaceful Satyagraha, they cultivated the land, without destroying anything belonging to the Government agency, nor did they disturb peace. When 91 of the Satyagrahis were arrested on the 25th July 2007, the women were manhandled and unjustifiable excessive force was used by the Madhya Pradesh police. The satyagrahis arrested under Sec 151 IPC were lodged in jail illegally without review even after 24 hours. The 5 days jail period for all and 3-5 days jail to senior NBA activists Ashish Mandloi and Medha Patkar maliciously invoking old cases was questionable and so was the whole procedure followed during the arrest with the use or brutal force and molestation of women.

The incidents and the role of the State was questioned through a letter sent by Medha Patkar and 25 women from the Indore District Jail which was admitted as a Public Interest Litigation and the Chief Justice of Madhya Pradesh heard the case, which was pleaded by Senior Advocate Shri N.S. Kale of Jabalpur and the Advocate General for the GoMP. The historic Judegment by the Chief Justice of Madhya Pradesh High Court Justice Shri A.K. Patnai, along with Justice Ajit Singh upheld the right to protest peacefully by the adivasis and other Satyagrahis in the situation of their right to life, i.e. right to be rehabilitated as per policy, in the face of displacement, being violated.

The Judgement delivered after full hearing and viewing of CDs provided by both the GoMP and Narmada Bachao Andolan found that Medha Patkar and other agitators were forcibly dragged and bodily lifted and put inside the police van. The High Court found that no circumstances existed to invoke Sections 151 and 107 Cr.P.C. Therefore, the High Court gave a finding that Medha Patkar and other agitators were exercising their fundamental rights – the freedom of speech and expression and their arrest was, therefore, gross violation of their fundamental right, namely Article 19(1)(a), 19(1)(c) and Article 21 (right to life). It upheld the right of the petitioners to be compensated for the illegalities involved in the brutal police action and ordered a compensation of Rs 10,000 to be paid to each Satyagrahi, which money would be recovered from GoMP and the responsible SDM of Badwani.

The GoMP went into appeal against the said judgement of the Supreme Court and the former Justice Rajinder Sacher pleaded for Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), on 27 March 2009. The Supreme Court admitted the case, heard the parties, and gave an interim Order directing the GoMP to pay 50% of the compensation amount (Rs 5000) to each Satyagrahi within 4 weeks.

Undoubtedly, the Interim Order is justice delivered not just to NBA Satyagrahis and Project affected, but to all those in people’s movements fighting for the right to land and livelihood and indeed the right to true, human and ecologically just development. Amidst the overall political space for people’s movements shrinking and the state becoming unjustifiably brutal and repressive, using force and intimidation to quell and kill people’s rightful resistance, this is indeed a historic path-breaking judgment that is welcome.

NBA looks forward to the further proceedings in the Court on this matter, which is highly important to people’s movements at large and is thankful to Justice Rajinder Sacher with Advocate Sanjay Parikh and also Advocate NS Kale with Advocate Abhijiit Bhowmik and Advocate Raghavendra for their very valuable contribution to public interest cause at hand.

Kailash Awasya, Ashish Mandloi, Clifton Rozario, Philip Mathew, Medha Patkar