The court on Friday has told the state's top bureaucrat that it was his job to act against anyone involved "in any kind of bandh or activity that disrupts normal life and affects detrimentally affects law and order".
The court's restriction came on a petition that complained about the state-wide agitation, which had erupted after a 17-year-old student, Anitha, committed suicide. The protests, the petition said, were affecting normal life of citizens.
A three-judge bench of the court headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra later made it clear that people were free to protest peacefully.
"We may clearly state here that a peaceful protest or criticism or dissent is different than creation of a law and order situation," the court said in its interim order on Friday.
The court said every citizen had "a fundamental right to peacefully protest and demonstrate" but could not cause a situation that leads to violence and paralyses the law and order situation.
Anitha's death had renewed protests against the central exam and sparked huge public anger, many of them by students. She was the daughter of a poor, Dalit daily-wage labourer. The girl, whose dream was to be a doctor, had scored excellent marks in her Class 12 exams and would have easily got into a medical college of her choice under the previous system. But she could not clear the national eligibility exam.
Tamil Nadu, which has close to 40 medical colleges, says the entrance exam places its students at a disadvantage. It is argued that national exam is more apt for students who study in CBSE and penalises poor and rural students who cannot afford the private tuition classes needed to score high in such entrance exams like NEET and JEE, which is used for engineering students.
Days before Anitha died, the Tamil Nadu government had proposed an executive order to exempt Tamil Nadu from the central admission test but the central government did not approve it. The Palaniswami government of the AIADMK in the state and the BJP government at the Centre have been the target of sharp attacks from the opposition that accuse the ruling party of letting down the state's students.
Sidelined AIADMK leader TTV Dhinakaran who had earlier announced an agitation against the national entrance exams said he was cancelling protests planned by his faction of the party in deference to the top court's directions.