For a country to progress, it is important to maintain public order and tranquillity. The onus of protecting citizens and maintaining public order lies on the State. Public order is a situation where there is an order in the State of society and the community, and the citizens can pursue their normal activities of life. Public tranquillity is where it is tranquil in the area concerned. Public order is a broad concept which includes public tranquillity in its ambit. The State uses the Code of Criminal Procedure (CRPC), 1973 to maintain public order and tranquillity in the country. Section 144 of the Code is mostly used to protect public order.
What is section 144 of the CRPC?
Section 144 of the CRPC shall be used where there are immediate cases of suspected threat. This provision gives power to the Magistrate to pass an order against a particular individual, or to persons residing in a particular place or area, or to the public generally when visiting a particular place or area. The order remains in force for two months. If needed, it can be extended for another four months. The main aim of Section 144 is to prevent rioting. Instances of nuisance factors fomenting trouble or fears of damage to human life or property are other reasons for the use of the law.
The Section also gives the Magistrate the right to pass an order to stop any gathering of 4 or more people. Once the Magistrate passes the order, even a peaceful assembly who had taken prior permission is “unlawful.” Once the assembly is “unlawful”, the police have the power to disband any public gathering of 4 or more people. It can also arrest people for not following the orders. Section 144 has had its uses many times in recent years. In India, in the past 8 months, it has been used at least 10 times.
Background of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA)
The BJP government passed the CAA on 11th December 2019. The bill aimed to amend the definition of an illegal immigrant for Hindu, Sikh, Parsi, Buddhist and Christian immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Such different groups of people will earn fast-track citizenship (within six years, instead of the standard 12 years). The Act states that any of these groups who faced religious persecution in their country and entered India before or on 31st December 2014 would benefit from the Act. Since the Act was passed, it is not in effect as the operative has yet to be enacted.
The reaction to the Act has been on both sides of the spectrum. There is one side that feels that this bill is vital to protect immigrants who face religious persecution. The other side of this spectrum feels that the bill is discriminatory. There have been various gatherings in support of the Act.
Those who condemn the Act claim that the fact that Muslims, who also face religious persecution, are wrongfully not included in the Act. They feel that it violates Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, which promises quality before the law and equal protection before the law. This has led to widespread protests against the Act throughout the country.
The CAA protests and use of Section 144 CRPC
The first rally against the CAA took place in Assam on 4 December 2019. Protests in Assam have turned violent, and Section 144 has been enforced in the State. More than 1,000 people have been arrested and Internet connections have been cut off in the State.
Since then, various protests against the Act have taken place all over the country. The most noted protest were the ones taking place in the Jamia Millia Islamia and the Aligarh Muslim University in Delhi. Both these protests turned violent, and Section 144 was imposed in the areas surrounding the universities. Around 100 students were arrested, and 200 were injured in clashes with the police.
In December 2019, protests in several parts of India were banned with the imposition of Section 144 in parts of New Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and Karnataka, including Bangalore. Section 144 has been implemented in different cases since then, although the protests were peaceful.
Is the imposition of Section 144 justified?
Is Section 144 constitutionally valid? Can use of Section 144 be justified for disbanding peaceful protests? The question of the Constitutional Validity of the Section was seen in Madhu Limaye vs Sub-Divisional Magistrate. It not only stated that Section 144 was a valid law but also gave guidelines for the use of this Section. These guidelines aim at balancing the right of freedom of speech and limitations under Article 19 of the Constitution.
The question of whether Section 144 can be used to suppress peaceful protests is still controversial. The Madhu Limaye case clearly states that use Section 144 should be when there is a danger of violence breaking out. However, it has been said that the government has been allegedly using it for quashing the dissent against the Act. The Karnataka High Court declared the order of Section 144 passed in the city of Bangalore’ illegal’. It stated that the order did not comply with the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court. The Bench also stated that only the decision-making process was examined, not the correctness of the order.
Section 144 is, without a doubt, a fundamental law for a country like India. It is necessary to protect public order in the country. However, the use of Section 144 as a means of peaceful protest should not be encouraged. The most important thing is the reason provided by the Magistrates. Orders of Section 144 have been passed only because of ‘apprehension of danger’. There must be a plausible reason for passing the order.
Protests are significant in a democracy. They are a sign of a healthy functioning democracy, where people can value opposing ideas. The mere chance that a protest may turn violent should not be a ground for imposing Section 144. There must be a balance between the right of freedom of speech and expression and maintenance of public order. Without balance, it will be difficult to progress as a country.
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