New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday said guidelines should be framed on the issue of the right to protest so as to ensure a balance between the fundamental right of the citizens to protest and the maintenance of law and order.

The apex court’s observation came as it issued notice to the centre and the Delhi police on a plea seeking to declare as illegal the banning of all assemblies and protests in central Delhi and the New Delhi area. A bench comprising justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan observed that it was important to frame a guideline in this regard so that neither the fundamental right to protest was violated, nor any inconvenience caused to the public.

The plea has said that continuous imposition of prohibitory orders under section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) was an “arbitrary and unreasonable restriction" on the fundamental rights of citizens to hold peaceful protest. The plea filed by an NGO, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan, has challenged the “repeated imposition" of orders by Delhi police under section 144 of the CrPC, saying it virtually declared the entire central Delhi as a prohibited area for holding any public meeting, dharna or peaceful protest.

The petition, filed through advocate Prashant Bhushan, has sought directions to formulate guidelines for holding public meetings, dharnas, peaceful demonstrations in parts of New Delhi. “As per sub-section 4 of Section 144 CrPC, an order can be issued for a maximum period of two months. Therefore, the Delhi police has adopted the tactic of issuing the same order repeatedly," the plea said. It also sought to quash several orders passed by police from January to October this year by which the entire central or New Delhi areas were declared prohibited areas.

The National Green Tribunal had on 5 October this year entirely banned protests at Jantar Mantar near Connaught Place on the ground that it created a nuisance for local residents and violated environment protection statutes.

The plea before the apex court has claimed that, “With the NGT order banning protests at Jantar Mantar, it is evident that distancing a protest site from where it is most visible to the government and concerned authorities, will have the effect of diluting the impact that the protest seeks to gain... Besides the cost of using Ramlila Maidan for protests is Rs50,000 per day which would make protests at the site practically impossible for the common citizens," it said.