Right To Protest Cannot Confer Any Right To Obstruct Legally Permitted Project; Kerala HC Orders Police Protection For Vizhinjam Port Project
The Kerala High Court has, by an interim order directed the State to provide police protection to employees and staff of Adani Vizhinjam Port for continuing the construction of the Vizhinjam International Seaport Project.
On the protest against the project, the Bench of Justice Anu Sivaraman observed thus "I have no doubt in my mind that the right to agitate or protest against any matter including the apathy or neglect of the Government cannot confer any right either on respondents 11 to 25 or any of the protesters to contend that they have a right to obstruct the activities which have due permissions or to trespass into the project site and cause damage to public property."
A writ petition was filed before the High Court seeking police protection for the life of the petitioners, employees and staff as well as sub-contractors and their employees for continuing the construction of the Vizhinjam International Seaport Project.
Senior Advocate S.Sreekumar appearing for the petitioners submitted that the construction of the port was in its last stages and that several hundreds of people started an agitation in front of the project site and the access of the petitioners to the project site was blocked and the project was brought to a standstill.
It was submitted that public money amounting to thousands of Crores of rupees was at stake and that the obstruction caused to the completion of the project was causing irreparable loss.
Senior Advocate VJ Mathew appearing for Vizhinjam International Seaport Ltd contended that the estimated project cost of the Vizhinjam Project is Rs.7,700/- Crores and that the Vizhinjam Port is envisaged as the only deep sea port of its magnitude in the country.
However, the petition was contended and opposed by Catholic Archdiocese of Trivandrum. It was contended that the petitions were not maintainable since the prayers raised are vague.
It was further contended that the conditions of Environmental Clearance as well as the orders of the National Green Tribunal stand blatantly violated by the petitioners and that a judicial commission appointed to look into the complaints had specifically found that the construction of the port is causing sea erosion in the neighbouring areas.
Advocate D. Sreekumar appearing for the respondents contended that the fisher folk in the locality are agitating against the pathetic living conditions in which they are forced to survive on account of loss of their houses and lands due to sea erosion.
The Court held that if the conditions on which the Environmental Clearance has been granted are not being complied with then the residents of the locality can raise such contentions before the appropriate authorities and seek redressal of their grievances in accordance with law.
The Court further held that if there are specific complaints even against the port project, it would be open for the residents of the locality to carry out peaceful protest to bring the matter to the notice of the authorities in question.
However, the Court emphasised that protesters don't have the right to violate the law or create a situation where the project proponent is disabled from going forward with the project.
"This Court has time and again considered the issue of competing interests in the matter of grant of police protection and has held that a right to protest can only mean a right to protest peacefully and there can be no right to obstruct the legally permitted project or activity in the guise of a protest whatever be the reason for the protest.", the Court observed.
"The public protest, in which respondents 11 to 25 are admittedly involved, at least in an advisory capacity, cannot extend to obstructing ingress and egress of the petitioners', its sub-contractors, employees or officials to and from the project site or obstruct the activities of the project without any authority of law.", the Court added further.
Accordingly, the Court ordered police protection for providing free ingress and egress to such persons for carrying out the necessary activities in connection with the project.
The Court further held that public protest can go on peacefully, but without causing any obstruction and without any trespass being permitted into the project area.
Earlier, during the hearing, the Court had observed that the construction of the port cannot be halted.
Cause Title- M/S. Adani Vizhinjam Port Pvt. Ltd. & Ors. v. State Of Kerala & Ors.