At Rs 50,000 per day, dissent is not cheap at Ramlila Maidan

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The ban on protests at Jantar Mantar, ordered by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) last week, has come at a heavy cost to protesters – Rs 50,000 to be precise. According to officials of the North Delhi Municipal Corporation, that’s how much it costs per day to hold a protest or an event at Ramlila Maidan, the alternative site earmarked for dissent in the capital.

On October 5, an NGT bench headed by Justice R S Rathore had ordered the Delhi government, New Delhi Municipal Council and the Delhi Police Commissioner to “immediately stop all dharnas, assembling of people, public speeches and use of loudspeakers at Jantar Mantar Road within four weeks”. It also said all protesters at the site will be shifted to Ramlila Maidan.

Jantar Mantar has been the site of many famous protests – including Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement, Babri Masjid demolition protests and the Tamil Nadu farmers’ protest. According to North body officials, only one organisation can hold an event at any given time at Ramlila Maidan.

Officials of the North corporation’s Horticulture department, which is responsible for booking of the ground, confirmed that they charge Rs 50,000 per day to hold an event in the 12-acre Ramlila Maidan. Officials said the cost used to be Rs 5,000 but was raised in 2015.

When contacted, North corporation spokesperson Yogendra Maan said that charging money for the venue is a policy matter formulated by the House. “Policy regarding the venue for protesters will be made by the House,” he said.
The NGT order and the high cost mean protesters have been running around to get permissions.

Organiser of the Navnirman Krushak Sangathan, which held a protest attended by Hazare at Parliament Street on Wednesday, had to face difficulty when their application to hold a protest at Jantar Mantar was rejected by the New Delhi district police. “They (New Delhi police) showed us the NGT order and said our permission is rejected. They advised us to go to Ramlila Maidan. When we went there, officials told us the venue is already booked for October 11 and two events cannot be allowed at the same site,” Akshay Kumar, the organiser, claimed.

Protesters then returned to Jantar Mantar. “But police did not give permission and we finally managed to hold a protest at Parliament Street till 2 pm.” The protest was held without permission. “We managed to stop them from going towards Jantar Mantar, which is a banned site now as per the NGT order,” said DCP (New Delhi) B K Singh.
Ever since the NGT order, over two dozen applications to hold protests at Jantar Mantar have been rejected.

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