Delhi ‘Lockdown’: Section 144 Should Never Be Imposed In Haste

Tradition suggests that Section 144 should be used sparingly, but the trend has become to use it in haste.

3 min read

Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) (1993) is designed to control and contain public nuisance, and when there is perceived danger to public peace and tranquility by unruly mobs. It is an instrument through which the district administration — either through the district magistrate or sub-divisional magistrate, authorised by the government or any executive magistrate — passes a written order with respect to the imposition of Section 144, which would mean an assembly of four or more persons is banned in public places.

This is to prevent crowds from gathering and devolving into raging mobs. And if these mandates are defied, then the government and the local administration and the police especially have the authority to disperse such mobs after due warning.

Section 144 of CrPC Should Not Be Imposed In a Blanket Manner

Once Section 144 of the CrPC is imposed, it remains valid for six months.

It can be revoked by a magistrate who is senior to the magistrate who passed the order, and if the crowds do gather, the dispersal can take place after due warning, and police can resort to minimum use of force as mandated by the law, to contain a situation. The imposition of curfew incidentally is also under the provisions of Section 144 of the CrPC. Anyone who defies these orders can be prosecuted under the provisions of Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code, carrying an imprisonment sentence of one year, and a monetary fine as well.

The state government can also revise the orders pertaining to the instructions issued by any district magistrate.

Now Section 144 is being used very frequently, whereas tradition suggests that Section 144, like any application of law or medication, should be used sparingly.

Because if it’s for a prolonged period, if Section 144 is imposed in a blanket manner throughout the jurisdiction, with a break after six months for a day or two for technical reasons, and then reimposed for another six months, the sting or the relevance of Section 144 will die out. Therefore, the local administration must impose 144 with due care and caution. Lest its impact is diluted, and the people and the administration get so used to it that it becomes an ineffective tool which unfortunately, it is likely to become because of its disuse, misuse and improper use.

Once Imposed, Citizens Must Follow Rules Under Sec 144

As far as the advice of Uttar Pradesh DGP, OP Singh, is concerned, to parents and guardians not to allow the children to participate in any protests or any agitation, is obviously because when Section 144 is imposed, all protests and agitation stand banned, unless they have written permission from the district administration. And it is the job of a senior police official to advice what is expected of the people as per the rule of law.

Therefore, while the imposition of Section 144 is debatable — as to whether or not it is justified — once it has been imposed, it is every citizen’s duty to observe and respect it.

Secondly, if people, under these circumstances, still want to take out a procession or go out on peaceful protest, then they can submit an application with the district magistrate and the superintendent of police. They can show the routes and the timings of the processions, and permission will be given accordingly, but blanket permission and the presumption that permission has been given, would not be very prudent under these circumstances.

(Dr Vikram Singh is an Indian educationist and retired Indian Police Service officer. He joined the IPS in 1974, and held the post of Director General of Police in the state of Uttar Pradesh during the period June 2007- September 2009. He tweets at @VikramSingh112. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)

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