On September 19 a division bench of the Hyderabad High Court comprising Chief Justice T.B. Radhakrishnan and Justice V. Rama made observations critical of the Telangana government while hearing a public interest litigation filed by senior Congress leader V. Hanumantha Rao regarding the ban imposed on staging protests, demonstrations and meetings at Dharna Chowk near Indira Park in Hyderabad.

The bench said, “This is India. The Constitution has guaranteed right to speech to the citizens of this country. The government cannot curb it. If inconvenience is caused to others because of such protests, then the government can impose reasonable restrictions as per the law. Do you expect the people to hold dharnas at places which are 50 kilometres away?” Addressing the state’s counsel the bench remarked, “Hartals were only necessary till you came into power.”

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Dr Lubna Sarwath, general secretary and spokesperson of the Socialist Party (India)–Telangana said in a statement, “The people of Telangana deserve a government that respects and welcomes dissent and questions. People in Telangana want a government that does not fear and run away from people when confronted with right to information. Government should apologise to us for having deprived our right to peaceful, just and non-violent protests at Dharna Chowk.”

Over a year ago the Telengana government banned all dharnas and protest rallies at Dharna Chowk, citing reasons such as traffic jams and inconvenience caused to people living in nearby residential areas.

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Petitioner’s counsel C. Damodar Reddy told the court that the alternative sites suggested by the Telengana government, namely Shamshabad, Jawahar Nagar and Pochampalli are all 25 to 50 kilometres away from the city.

Dharna Chowk has been the site of various agitations and protest rallies, including protests demanding the creation of present day Telangana, in which the state’s incumbent chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao played an active role.

Dharna Chowk in Indira Park is close to the Secretariat, Telengana State Legislature and other important government establishments.

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Hyderabad is not the only place which has faced this problem.

In October last year the National Green Tribunal (NGT), citing violation of environmental laws, banned all protests at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, which has been a centre for organising agitations and is close to Parliament House and the Boat Club, near India Gate.

In July 2018 a Supreme Court bench comprising Justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan overturned the NGT’s decision saying, “There cannot be a complete ban on holding protests at places like Jantar Mantar and Boat Club” and asked the Centre to frame a new set of guidelines on the matter. #KhabarLive