- What is Section 144?
- Can it be invoked on a mere apprehension of danger?
- What happens when Section 144 is invoked in a region?
- What is ‘unlawful assembly’?
- Is it a curfew?
- Consequences on violation of the order under Section 144?
- Duration of Section 144 order
- Attempts to repeal Section 144
Section 144 of CrPC Explained
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Why it was in news?
- Recently, people gathered in Varanasi to protest the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), defying section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) imposed by police.
What it is Section 144?
- Section 144 of the CrPC gives power to the 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”.
- The order can be passed only Magistrate considers that the direction is likely to result in:
- obstruction, annoyance or injury to any person lawfully employed
- danger to human life, health or safety
- disturbance of the public tranquillity, or a riot or affray
- Recently, it was invoked in different parts of the country to contain the public protests against the recently passed Citizenship Amendment Act.
Can it be invoked on a mere apprehension of danger?
- According to the Supreme Court, mere apprehension of danger is not a sufficient ground for invoking section 144 and curbing citizen’s rights.
- Various Supreme Court verdicts on section 144 lead to the conclusion that this section can be invoked only if there are materials to show that
- The threat is immediate
- The restrictions are necessary to prevent the immediate threat
What happens when Section 144 is invoked in a region?
- Usually it prohibits public gathering of five or more people.
- Restriction on carrying any sort of weapon in that area
- No movement of public
- All educational institutions shall also remain closed
- A complete bar on holding any kind of public meetings or rallies
- Suspension of telecommunication services including voice, mobile internet, SMS, landline and fixed broadband.
- A peaceful assembly of people who had taken prior permission can be termed “unlawful.”
What is an ‘Unlawful assembly’?
- Unlawful assembly’ describes a group of people who gather allegedly to ‘deliberately’ disturb peace. If the group is just about to begin its disturbance, it is called a ‘rout’. But if it sets off unrest, it starts a ‘riot’.
In legal terms, as per Section 141, an assembly of five or more persons is designated an “unlawful assembly” if their common objective is:
- To overawe the Central or any State Government or Parliament or the Legislature of any State or any public servant by criminal force, or show of criminal force; or
- To resist the execution of any law or any legal process
- To commit any mischief or criminal trespass or other offence
- To take or obtain possession of any property, to deprive any person of the enjoyment of a right of way or of the use of water or other incorporeal right that he possesses or enjoys, to enforce any right or supposed right — all by means of criminal force or show of criminal force; or
- To compel any person to do what he is not legally bound to do, or to omit to do what he is legally entitled to do.
Difference between Curfew and Section 144
- Section 144 prevents unlawful assembly and public movement in groups, whereas curfew restricts all public movement during the specified period over which it is in effect. Schools, markets and businesses remain closed and only essential services remain operational.
Consequence on violation of the order under Section 144
- The act of any person intentionally joining the assembly or continues to be in it, is punishable by law. The maximum punishment could go up to three years and/or fine.
Duration of Section 144 order
- Section 144 can remain in force for a maximum of two months. The state government can extend the validity for two months and maximum up to six months.
- It can be withdrawn at any point of time if situation becomes normal.
- Section 144 give wide power to a magistrate that may be exercised unjustifiably.
- An aggrieved individual can approach the High Court by filing a writ petition if his fundamental rights are at stake. However, fears exist that before the High Court intervenes, the rights could already have been infringed.
- In some case, section 144 has been imposed in whole state even the security situation differs from area to area within city (i.e., Section 144 is also imposed where there is no need of it).
Attempts to repeal Section 144
- The first major challenge to the law was made in 1961 in Babulal Parate vs Maharashtra. Supreme Court refused to strike down the law. It was challenged again by Dr Ram Manohar Lohiyain 1967 and was once again rejected, with the court saying no democracy can exist if ‘public order’ is freely allowed to be disturbed by a section of the citizens.
- In another challenge in 1970 (Madhu Limaye vs Sub-Divisional Magistrate), Court said that the fact that the “law may be abused” is no reason to strike it down and upheld the constitutionality of the law.
Section 144 is a useful tool to help deal with emergencies. However, there is an absence of specific objectives while giving wide executive powers to officials. There is very limited judicial oversight over the executive branch, too, which makes it ripe for abuse and misuse.