Today when thousands marched to protect their democratic right to protest and dissent from Mandi House to Jantar Mantar, the National Green Tribunal dwelt a severe blow to that freedom when it asked to immediately put a stop to all forms of protests at the Jantar Mantar because they ‘spread’ ‘noise pollution’. The court said that people living in the vicinity have a right to sleep in peace. The point well taken. We dont know how many ‘people’ really live in the vicinity of Jantar Mantar except some offices of the political parties who themselves organise various meetings.
We know that this country suffer from noise and all forms of pollution. We respect the demand of Lutyens Delhi to protect itself from noise pollution but I wish to ask as why should they alone be protected. Where is my right to protect from noise pollution during all these festivities. Will we see a noiseless and pollutionless Diwali this year.
Jantar Mantar is the only place where people not only from Delhi but from different parts of the country come to voice their protest which is their democratic right. In democracy, people do protest to get justice. Secondly, this space too was shrinking as already there have been lots of ifs and buts. If the court was worried about noise pollution, it could have asked to reduce the volumes of the Microphones or asking the people speak without the microphones. It has also asked to remove all those who are sitting on the protests. This is a dangerous way to fight ‘noise pollution’.
In many of the states, the protests areas have been cleared. Governments dont want to see them. In some of the capital cities we are witnessing that the protest areas have been designated to far away places without any facilities. It means, methods are being used to make these protests useless and kill the political protests. It is sad. Political parties must raise this issue in Parliament. We hope political and social activists will go to the Supreme Court against this order. I think, National Green Tribunal has gone beyond its jurisdiction and it should not allow itself to be used by these fictitious Public Interest Litigations that come in the garb of ‘protecting’ ‘environment’ but are basically aimed at curtailing people’s political and human rights.
We hope the Supreme Court will look into this affair which is serious for the health of democracy. We do understand people’s right to disagree in these protests and there can be restrictions on the noise level in and around the protesting areas but to deny people from protesting in the heart of the city is not only undemocratic but it will only pave the way towards an authoritarian regime in future. Free space at Jantar Mantar should be protected and it is time for political leaders and legal luminaries to take a call on it and file a litigation against the order in the Supreme Court. It is time to protect democratic rights of the people which are guaranteed not only in our constitution but in all the International Covenants to which we are signatory.
[Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social and human rights activist. He blogs at www.manukhsi.blogspot.com twitter @freetohumanity Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The above article was first published by countercurrents.org.]