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Slapping Section 144 during CAA protests ‘illegal’: Karnataka HC

Topics Covered: Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability.

Slapping Section 144 during CAA protests ‘illegal’: Karnataka HC

What to study?

For Prelims: What is Section 144? Who and why it is imposed? Implications?

For Mains: Concerns, challenges and ways to address them.

Context: The Karnataka High Court has declared as “illegal” the order passed by the Bengaluru City Police Commissioner imposing Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code(Cr.PC) from December 19 to 21, 2019, ahead of a series of pro- and anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) rallies.

 Key observations:

  1. The court held that the order did not stand judicial scrutiny in terms of the parameters laid down by the Supreme Court in the cases of Anuradha Bhasin Vs Union of India and the Ramlila Maidan Incident Vs Union of India.
  2. The police commissioner was expected to form an opinion citing reasons in his order for imposing Section 144. But, in the present instance, he has only referred to the recommendations made by eight Deputy Commissioners of Police to invoke Section 144 and ‘there was no indication of independent application of mind by the Commissioner.”

What is Section 144?

It gives power to a District Magistrate, a sub- divisional Magistrate or any other Executive Magistrate on behalf of the State Government to issue an order to an individual or the general public in a particular place or area to “abstain from a certain act” or “to take certain order with respect to certain property in his possession or under his management”.

This order can be passed against a particular individual or general public. The order can be passed even ex-parte.

As held by the Supreme Court, mere apprehension of danger is not a sufficient ground to curb citizens’ rights by invoking Section 144 CrPC.

Implications:

  1. Section 144 restricts carrying any sort of weapon in that area where it has been imposed and people can be detained for violating it. The maximum punishment for such an act is three years.
  2. According to the order under this section, there shall be no movement of public and all educational institutions shall also remain closed and there will be a complete bar on holding any kind of public meetings or rallies during the period of operation of this order.
  3. Section 144 also empowers the authorities to block the internet access.

Duration of Section 144 order:

No order under Section 144 shall remain in force for more than two months but the state government can extent the validity for two months and maximum up to six months. It can be withdrawn at any point of time if situation becomes normal.

As per the Section, the order can be passed only “if such Magistrate considers”, that the direction is likely to prevent:

  1. obstruction, annoyance or injury to any person lawfully employed.
  2. danger to human life, health or safety.
  3. disturbance of the public tranquility, or a riot or affray.

Concerns over its misuse:

Contradictory approach of Article 19 (1) (b) and (c) of the constitution and section 144 of CrPC is a “reflection of a colonial legacy and the unquestioning adoption of most of the provisions of the 1872 Code of Criminal Procedure by the contemporary Indian State”.

More often than not, the section has been used to curb even peaceful dissent.

What next?

The government should make sure that there is no blanket imposition.

Existing checks and balances and judicial oversight are insufficient. Therefore, a thorough review is necessary.

Public order and right to peaceful dissent– both should be ensured.

Sources: the Hindu.