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Shaheen Bagh: Hearing today, ex-CIC says shifting will put protesters at risk

Any attempt to “forcibly shift” those protesting against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act from the road they are sitting on in Shaheen Bagh, Delhi, “would compromise their safety”, former Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah said Sunday, adding that police barricading of unconnected roads was behind the traffic chaos in the area.

In an affidavit to the Supreme Court, which will hold a hearing in the matter on Monday, Habibullah said he visited the site on February 19 and personally inspected the barricades placed by police. He said he noticed that “there are numerous… roads that have no connection with the protest that have been barricaded by the Police unnecessarily, abdicating their responsibilities and duties and wrongly laying the blame on the protest”. “It is this barricading of unconnected roads that has led to a chaotic situation.”

Habibullah contended, “Any attempt to forcibly shift them (the protesters) from the present site would compromise their safety, especially in view of the abuses and threats that are regularly being meted out and hate speeches that have taken place in different parts of the country (against) those protesting against the CAA, NPR (National Population Register) and NRC (National Register of Citizens).”

The Supreme Court is hearing PILs against the Shaheen Bagh protest and the blockade of roads, saying this was causing difficulties for people in nearby areas. Expressing concern over the blockade, the court had deputed Senior Advocate Sanjay Hegde and Advocate Sadhana Ramachandran to hold talks  with them to find a solution. The court had allowed them to seek the assistance of Habibullah who, along with Bhim Army chief Chandrasekhar Azad, had sought to intervene in the matter.

The former bureaucrat said that at over a thousand points in Delhi, access to roads has been blocked by “residents of different colonies, or for convenience of the powerful and the privileged”, and wondered why no action is taken by police in such cases.

He said that during his visit to Shaheen Bagh, he noticed that an ambulance and a school van were given free passage by the protesters. He was informed by the protesters that they let through all such vehicles that clear barricades after being found genuine by police.

Habibullah said that the women protesters had asked him to convey to the court that they are “expressing peaceful dissent against the CAA, NPR, NRC as the legislation and the intention behind the legislation, which has been voiced by many of those in power, have struck deep fear in the hearts of many poor and underprivileged citizens of India”.

They were protesting “out of desperation” as they see the CAA, NPR and NRC as “sounding a death knell for their survival and survival of their future generations”, the former CIC said. They also felt disheartened that despite it being a “burning issue”, the Centre had not engaged in any dialogue with them to address their concerns, he said.

Habibullah added that the protesters had “pointed out that none of the residents of Shaheen Bagh or the shopkeepers who are located in the vicinity have raised objections… as they emphathise with the protest”.

His affidavit said that the protesters told him they had chosen the Shaheen Bagh site as they felt secure there with many of them living nearby.(The Indian Express)

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