Section 144 Orders Imposed in Bengaluru Were Illegal: Karnataka HC
Restrictions imposed on 18 December including cancellation of permitted protests found to violate legal standards.
In a decision that could have important ramifications, the Karnataka High Court held on Thursday, 13 February, that the prohibitory orders imposed across Bengaluru in 2019 were illegal and “cannot stand scrutiny of law”.
Using the power under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the local administration and police had imposed prohibitory orders across the city on 18 December last year, restricting any gatherings or rallies in public and even cancelling anti-CAA protests which had already been given permission.
However, the bench, headed by Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court AS Oka, did not set aside the orders passed across the city, as they had already lapsed by the time of the judgment (the original orders were in place from 18-21 December 2019).
The petitions filed in the high court against the Section 144 orders, by Congress Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Gowda, MLA Sowmya Reddy, and others, had asked for the orders to be declared illegal and quashed.
The state government had argued that the right to peaceful protest was part of the fundamental right to free speech, but that this was subject to reasonable restrictions.
While the hearings were taking place, the BJP government in power in the state said that it would consider applications for new protests and decide them within 3-4 days.
Advocate General Prabhuling Navadgi, representing the state government, had been questioned by the judges about how the permissions for protests which had already been given could be cancelled overnight, and how “sweeping” orders could be passed under the assumption that every protest would disturb the peace, reported Bar & Bench.
Senior advocate Ravi Verma Kumar, who appeared for one of the petitioners before the court, had argued that the orders passed had been arbitrary and illegal as there had been no application of mind by the police.
Interestingly, according to LiveLaw, the high court referred to the Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Anuradha Bhasin case on restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir in arriving at its conclusions about why the Bengaluru orders were illegal – the apex court had, in its judgment held that Section 144 orders could not be imposed in a mechanical, sweeping manner, and could not be based on mere apprehension of disorder.
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