Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC)
Section 144 was imposed in various states to control the spread of coronavirus in the country.
‘Section 144 is a useful tool to help deal with emergencies. However, It is often abused and misused by authorities’. Comment.
About Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC):
● It was enacted in 1973. This law empowers the magistrate of any state or union territory in India to pass an order prohibiting the gathering of four or more people in a specified area.
● The executive magistrate of the given jurisdiction has been conferred the power to issue orders under Section 144 when there is an impending emergency situation.
● Section 144 is imposed in a given region in emergency situations or cases of nuisance or perceived danger of some event that has the potential to create a troubling situation or damage to human lives or property.
● The ultimate purpose of Section 144 is to maintain peace and order in the areas where trouble could erupt to disrupt regular life. Section 144 CrPC prohibits the conducting of some events which are otherwise allowed during regular times.
Duration of Section 144 order:
● As per the rules specified for the implementation of Section 144 in a given jurisdiction, no order can remain in force for a period of more than 2 months.
● Under the state government’s discretion, it can choose to extend the validity for two more months with the maximum validity extendable to six months.
Difference between Section 144 and curfew:
● Section 144 prohibits the gathering of four or more people in the concerned area, while during the 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.
Criticism of Section 144:
● It is too broad, and the words of the section are wide enough to give absolute power to a magistrate that may be exercised unjustifiably.
● The immediate remedy against such an order is a revision application to the magistrate himself. 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.
● Section 144 CrPC has often been used to clamp down on telecommunication servicesand order Internet shutdowns.
Important Supreme court’s Judgements:
● Babulal Parate vs State of Maharashtra and Others(1961): A five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court refused to strike down the law, saying it is “not correct to say that the remedy of a person aggrieved by an order under the section was illusory”.
● In Dr Ram Manohar Lohiya (1967) Case, the court said “no democracy can exist if ‘public order’ is freely allowed to be disturbed by a section of the citizens”.
● Madhu Limaye vs Sub-Divisional Magistrate (1970): A seven-judge Bench of the Supreme court upheld the constitutionality of the law. It ruled that the restrictions imposed through Section 144 do not violate the right to freedom of speech and expression, which is a fundamental right because it falls under the “reasonable restrictions” under Article 19(2) of the Constitution.
Section 144 is a useful tool to help deal with emergencies. However, the 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.