Monday, 30th October 2017

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Shaheen Bagh road one-side plan: SC emissaries

The Shaheen Bagh protesters will discuss the future course of action on Saturday

By Pheroze L. Vincent in New Delhi
  • Published 22.02.20, 3:44 AM
  • Updated 22.02.20, 3:44 AM
  • 3 mins read
The Shaheen Bagh vigil. (PTI)

The interlocutors sent by the Supreme Court to Shaheen Bagh said on Friday night that the protesters were “in principle” not fundamentally against opening one side of the road where the vigil is being held if police can guarantee in writing their security.

“In principle, the protesters were not fundamentally against opening of the non-protest side of the road if their security could be guaranteed in writing by the Delhi police under suitable orders of the Supreme Court,” interlocutors Sanjay Hegde and Sadhana Ramachandran said in a statement on Friday night.

One of the organisers told this paper that the Shaheen Bagh protesters, holding the vigil against the new citizenship matrix for over two months, will discuss the future course of action on Saturday.

The court had asked the interlocutors to find out whether the protesters would move from GD Birla Marg in the capital to an alternative site so that traffic could flow unhindered.

The interlocutors’ statement added: “This morning (Friday) we were very happy about the opening of the Noida-Faridabad road by the police. This brought substantial relief to the Faridabad commuters. However, we were informed that soon thereafter, the road was again barricaded by the police for no apparent reason. This was extremely distressing to us and we wish to emphasise that the action of re-barricading the roads defeats the very purpose of confidence-building on the part of police.”

Friday morning saw a flutter when the police briefly lifted the barricades during the rush hour in Noida. However, DCP (southeast) R.P. Meena clarified: “Whenever there is high pressure of traffic on the Noida side, two-wheelers are allowed towards Delhi on the canal road (Okhla Barrage Road, which is barricaded on the Uttar Pradesh side). The traffic diversion (away from GD Birla Marg) is still in place.”

Opening the connecting road, the police said, would bring in several vehicles that would lead to a gridlock as GD Birla Marg is blocked by the protesters who allow only ambulances and school buses through.

On Thursday night, interlocutors Hegde and Ramachandran had said in a statement: “We are happy that Delhi police have cooperated with our suggestions and the usage of some roads may soon be restored, especially for Faridabad commuters. We will continue to meet the protesters, hopefully in a much more organised manner.”

On Friday, a police officer was made to explain the traffic situation to the crowd.

A woman protester stood up and said: “If we leave one side (of the road), what guarantee is there that we won’t be shot at?”

The police assured her that they would continue to provide security. On February 1, a youth had opened fire at the protest tent before he was nabbed by the police and local youths.

The interlocutors added that they would not be holding a public interaction on Saturday in order to enable the protesters to come to an independent conclusion on the way forward.

“We will return on Sunday only if we deem it necessary and feasible to do so,” they added.

During the intervening night of Thursday and Friday, multiple sources said, a group associated with the women-led vigil at Shaheen Bagh hired an excavator to remove structures such as a map of India and a replica of India Gate near the protest site.

Asked, Sonu Waris, one of the organisers of the vigil, said: “We can’t say who brought the JCB (excavator). But the women at the spot chased them away.”

A source said: “Several leaders of the protest and influential people of the area met till late last night (Thursday). Time is running out for us to ensure that our protest — which has inspired so many across the world — continues. As the main grievance being raised against us is that we have blocked the entire road, we decided to at least clear structures on one side. Then, it would be the onus of the police to allow traffic on one carriageway and provide protection to the protest on the other side.

“But after more than two months of protests, people are so angry with the government that they will not yield an inch and the excavator was stopped from proceeding.”

After the interlocutors failed to convince the protesters to meet them in small groups, they were accompanied by people from the area on Thursday to show them barricades installed by the police on roads adjoining GD Birla Marg.

On Friday evening, Hegde and Ramachandran began talking to the protesters by walking through the protest tent, instead of sitting on the stage and listening to people. The protesters were focusing on the citizenship matrix and not the road blockade, the issue that the interlocutors have been sent to resolve.