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Section 144 crpc

What is section 144 of crpc?

Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) of 1973 authorises the Executive Magistrate of any state or territory to issue an order to prohibit the assembly of four or more people in an area. According to the law, every member of such 'unlawful assembly' can be booked for engaging in rioting.

Section 144 is imposed in urgent cases of nuisance or apprehended danger of some event that has the potential to cause trouble or damage to human life or property. Section 144 of CrPC generally prohibits public gathering.

Section 144 has been used in the past to impose restrictions as a means to prevent protests that can lead to unrest or riots. The orders to impose Section 144 have been conferred to Executive Magistrate when there is an emergency situation. Section 144 also 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.

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.

Moreover, obstructing law enforcement agencies from dispersing an unlawful assembly is a punishable offence. Section 144 also empowers the authorities to block the internet access.

144 CrPC bars the conduct of certain activities or actions or events which are allowed to be done in regular course. It is imposed to ensure maintenance of peace and tranquillity in an area.

Why is Section 144 in News?

On September 17, 2020, restrictions under Section 144 were imposed in Mumbai by order of the Commissioner of Police, Greater Mumbai. These restrictions were imposed in view of an unrelenting surge in coronavirus cases in the city. Mumbai has been one of the most affected Indian cities in the Covid-19 pandemic, which has had the entire world in its grips since early 2020.

On March 23, the Delhi government imposed Section 144 in Delhi to stop the spread of coronavirus, which had claimed over 14,500 lives worldwide and had infected over 3,40,000 people. As the virus spread its wings in India, several states for Delhi government and imposed Section 144 to restrain local transmission of covid-19.

On February 12, Section 144 was imposed in North Goa district following intelligence inputs about possible terror threat along the western coast. North Goa District Magistrate, in a notification said it would be imposed for 60 days, from February 11 to April 10.

On February 8, internet snapped across Jammu and Kashmir and Section 144 was imposed in view of the death anniversary of Maqbool Bhat and Afzal Guru.

Features of Section 144:

  • It places restrictions on handling or transporting any kind of weapon in the given jurisdiction. The maximum punishment for such an act is three years.
  • According to the order under this section, there shall be no movement of public and all educational institutions shall also remain closed.
  • Further, there will be a complete bar on holding any kind of public meetings or rallies during the period of operation of this order.
  • It is deemed a punishable offence to obstruct law enforcement agencies from disbanding an unlawful assembly.
  • It also empowers the authorities to block internet access in the region. • The ultimate purpose of Section 144 is to maintain peace and order in the areas where trouble could erupt to disrupt the regular life.

Difference between Section 144 and Curfew:

Section 144 prohibits gathering of four or more people in the concerned area, while during curfew people are instructed to stay indoors for a particular period of time. The government puts a complete restriction on traffic as well.

Markets, schools, colleges and offices remain closed under the curfew and only essential services are allowed to run on prior notice.

Court's Ruling on Section 144:

Dr Ram Manohar Lohiya case 1967, the Supreme Court held that “no democracy can exist if ‘public order' is freely allowed to be disturbed by a section of the citizens”.

The Supreme court in another recent judgement said that the section cannot be used to impose restrictions on citizens' fundamental right to assemble peacefully, cannot be invoked as a 'tool' to 'prevent the legitimate expression of opinion or grievance or exercise of any democratic rights'.

Conclusion Section 144 is a useful tool to help deal with emergencies. However, absence of any narrow tailoring of wide executive powers with specific objectives, coupled with very limited judicial oversight over the executive branch, makes it ripe for abuse and misuse. Before proceeding under this section, the Magistrate should hold an enquiry and record the urgency of the matter.

There is a need to balance the granting of plenary powers by the legislature to deal with emergent situations, and the need to protect the personal liberty and other freedoms granted to the citizens under the fundamental rights of the Constitution

Written By: Om Tirankar

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