Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code that prohibits an “Unlawful Assembly’ is a British era law used for “Nationalist Oppression”, however, most of the people don’t know much about section 144 in general and some people compare it with a “Curfew”. Is it a Curfew?
No. Section 144 has more relief and fewer diminution than a curfew. Curfew can be imposed in more severe situations. In general, section 144 is “any Executive Magistrate can issue an order to prohibit the gathering of more than 4 people in one particular area and can restrain or prohibit people from committing a particular act or from entering a particular area.” The punishment for breaking this law is 30 days of imprisonment according to section 188 of Indian Penal Code.
EXPLOITATION OF SECTION 144 IN DIFFERENT STATES
District Collector had issued an order to implement section 144 in Bhopal for 2 months, before the SC’s Ayodhya Verdict, without any prior disturbance of peace.
Under section 144 no order shall remain in force for more than two months or in case of emergency, the state government can extend the validity up to six months. However, in Kota, Rajasthan approx. 1 lakh residents are living under section 144 from 1989, which means for 27 years due to communal riots. As well as, in Ahmedabad, Gujarat the faculty member at the IIM, Ahmedabad filed a petition, stating that the continuous imposition of the section has made Ahmedabad a war zone perpetually as if it is in enduring danger. It is violating the people’s right to peaceful assembly and right to express themselves which is Article 19(1)(b) and Article 19(1)(a) respectively of the Indian Constitution.
During anti CAA in protests in Aligarh the police filed a report against 20 student leaders and 500 other students of Aligarh Muslim University for disobeying prohibitory orders under section 144 and holding a protest near Faiz Gate of the campus. To which AMU student leaders stated that the protests are entirely peaceful and it is their Democratic Right.
During anti CAA-protests in Mangaluru, protestors hit the streets, defying prohibitory orders under section 144 of the CrPC and two persons were killed in police firing and two were supposedly injured, during protests. Police claims, they were fired in the air and no one has been injured.
In the Ramlila Maidan case, on the night of June 4, an incident took place in Ramlila Maidan, Delhi where protestors including Baba Ramdev were sleeping and without any further warning or an official notice police force entered in Ramlila Maidan and thousands of people were beaten by the force with lathis using tear gas, in pursuance of section 144. In this incident, many people got injured and a woman named Rajbala later died in hospital. Prior permission from the Delhi Municipal Corporation had been taken by the trust for the use of Ramlila Maidan and police forces were stationed by the state for ensuring that the people entering the Ramlila Maidan were utterly checked and guaranteed that the assembly was not carrying any kind of weapons. In the court, the police were not able to prove the conditions that existed which compelled them to use force. This action of the police force violated Article 19(1) (b) that is right “to assemble peacefully and without arms”.
On 5 August 2019 president of India issued order 272, applying all provisions of the constitution of India to the state of J&K, on the same day the District Magistrates imposed restrictions on public movements and gathering by the potency of powers vested under section 144, CrPC. In which Ms. Anuradha Bhasin, Executive Editor of Kashmir Times Srinagar Edition, filed the petition. She stated that the internet is essential for contemporary press and without which print media has come to “grinding halt”. And because of this, she had been unable to publish the newspaper since 6 August 2019. In which Hon’ble Judge Ramanna stated that such restrictions can only be put in place for a limited time period. In his judgement, he clearly stated that Internet access is a part of the fundamental rights in India
According to an article of “the Quint” an online magazine, on 17 November 2019 people from Kashmir valley had to travel approximately 110 km after the resumption of train services between Srinagar and Banihal to access the Internet, for performing the essential tasks such as submitting licence, applications and scholarships form registration, etc. Despite that, some of them returned their home dissatisfied due to the crowd in cyber cafes in Banihal. So, the court in Anuradha Bhasin case offers no significant relief to them.
THE NECESSITIES FOR IMPOSING THE SECTION 144 SHOULD SATISFY SOME CONDITIONS ACCORDING TO PROVISION:
- The imposition of restrictions has to be in pursuance of grounds specifically listed in “Article 19” of the Indian Constitution.
- It has to be in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India.
- The measures imposed must be the least restrictive or least invasive measure possible.
- The order must be against the wrongdoer and not against innocent civilians.
- There must be urgent cases of nuisance of apprehended danger.
- Under this section, no order shall remain in force for more than two months and if the state government considers it necessary so to do for preventing danger to human life, health, and safety or for preventing a riot, the state government may, by notification imposed it for six months maximum.
To use any law repeatedly tends to dilute the sanctity and ethics of the statute. The exploitation of a particular section for suppressing the rights of the people by the authorities is a toxic trait for any Democratic Country. Section 144 of CrPC is an oxymoron; it can be proved to be a very obliging law for the country if the authorities utilize it with decorum. Section 144 is becoming a threat to our Fundamental Rights and Civil Rights not because there is anything inaccurate in the section but because the authorities are implementing this section carelessly all around the country. This section could not be carelessly imposed because of some protests, the necessity to impose this section should satisfy the above conditions. In places like Kota and Kashmir, people are continuously living under the section. And if we cover Internet Shutdown, in the contemporary India Internet is necessary for digital payments that the BJP government have encouraged, it has become a major source of communication, and shutting down Internet can violate Article 19 (1) (g) of Indian Constitution which is freedom of profession. In most of the cases there was no prior notice or information given by the authorities. 50 years ago, in case of Madhu Limaye the Supreme Court warned that “Restraint of liberties under section 144 should not be too general. The punishment for breaching of section 144 is 30 days imprisonment then why killing the civilians in the name of Law. Above-mentioned actions by the authorities aren’t the attributes of a Democratic Country.
 For 27 years, Sec 144 in force in parts of Kota, claim residents, The Economic Times, 10 September, 2016, 03:39 PM IST
 Protest Against CAB: FIR Against 500 + AMU Students for Defying Section 144, The Wire, 12 December 2019, 02:30 PM IST
 Ramlila Maidan Incident v. Home Secretary, Union of India & Ors., 2012 5 SCC 1.
 Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 25.
 Syed Shahriyar & Vatsala Singh, Internet Express: A Train for Kashmiris in Search of Connectivity, The Quint, 11 January 2020,01:46 PM IST
 Madhu Limaye vs Sub-Divisional Magistrate, 1971SCR (2) 711.
Prachi Saini, Section 144 of Cr.P.C.: Becoming A Tool of Muffling Dissent?, Ex Gratia Law Journal, (October 6, 2020), https://exgratialawjournal.in/blawg/criminal-law/section-144-of-crpc-becoming-a-tool-of-muffling-dissent-by-prachi-saini/.