The Bombay High Court on Wednesday observed that it expects state authorities to maintain law and order while safeguarding public health and well-being during the ongoing Maratha quota protests.
The court’s remarks came while it was hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petition that had been filed, seeking directives from the court to the Maharashtra government regarding the ongoing law and order issues related to the Maratha reservation agitation.
The PIL raised concerns about the unrest caused by the protest activities.
Chief Justice DK Upadhyaya and Justice Arun Pednekar, presiding over the case, emphasised the importance of peaceful expressions of democratic aspirations, stating that “The aspirations of people in any democratic polity get expressed in various forms; however, such forms cannot be permitted to assume the character of the same being a cause of any kind of disturbance in the society.”
Advocate MS Deshmukh, representing one of the petitioners, pointed out that the protesters had resorted to strong measures, including organising Dharnas (sit-ins) and hunger strikes, over the past few weeks. He mentioned a specific protest in Jalna district’s Antarwali Sarati village, where vehicles had been set on fire, and disturbances had disrupted public life.
Manoj Jarange, a 40-year-old activist, has been on a hunger strike demanding reservations in jobs and education for the Maratha community under the OBC category. Despite government requests to end his hunger strike, he remains steadfast.
Advocate General Birendra Saraf, representing the state authorities, assured the court that the administration was equally concerned about the situation and had taken various measures to prevent any untoward incidents and maintain law and order.
The bench reiterated the importance of protecting the rights of individuals and groups to express their aspirations, but emphasised that such expressions should be peaceful.
“No protest or agitation being carried out for whatever reason can be permitted to assume the character of causing any law and order situation. Every individual or group of persons has got a fundamental right to protest; however, it should necessarily be by peaceful means, and if there is any breach of the same, it is the bounden duty of the State to prevent such breach,” it said.
In response to Advocate Saraf’s statements, the bench expressed confidence in the state authorities, saying, “We have no reason to believe that the State authorities shall not take appropriate action which may be warranted under law, not only to maintain peace, tranquillity, and the law and order but also to take care of the health and well-being of all”.