Section 144 of Crpc and Indian Penal Code

The dealings with unlawful assemblies affect public policies and are of huge concern to general public since these mechanisms are sometimes used to express resistance against tyrannical Governmental orders. The section in CrPC especially attracts attention of many since its constitutionality can be easily challenged as arbitrary. This article explores these issues in depth.

Introduction to Section 144                        

Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code prescribes the punishment for the engagement in any unlawful assembly that is equipped with a deadly weapon. Unlawful assembly is an illegal accumulation of many people having a mutual intention to unnecessarily interfere with public peace and harmony. The section states- Whoever, being armed with any deadly weapon, or with anything which, used as a weapon of offense, is likely to cause death, is a member of an unlawful assembly, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both[1]. The offence under this section is an aggravated form of the offence. Greater punishment is prescribed under this section because the risk to public tranquility is aggravated by the intention of using force evinced by carrying arms. Where the accused is armed with anything which, if used as a weapon of offence, is likely to cause death, he shall be liable under this section[2]. Section 144 of Crpc is discussed below.

Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (“Crpc”) deals with urgent cases of nuisance or apprehended danger. When immediate prevention or speedy remedy is desirable, any Magistrate may, by a written order, make any direction in order to abstain a person from a certain act or to take certain order with respect to certain property in his possession or under his management, if such Magistrate considers that such direction is likely to prevent, obstruction or annoyance or injury to any person lawfully employed, or danger to human life, health, safety or disturbance to public tranquility, or a riot or an affray[3]. The gist of action under this section is the urgency lying in the situation, its efficacy in the likelihood of being able to prevent some harmful occurrences[4]. An order under this section is discretionary and can be made under various circumstances including an apprehension of a breach of peace.

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Prohibitory orders under Section 144 Crpc in Jallikattu Protest

Jallikattu is an ancient sports event organized in Tamil Nadu during the period of Pongal celebration. This traditional sport involves releasing a bull in an arena and a group of people enter into that arena and try to get hold of that bull with bare hands. The participants try doing this by attempting to hold the bull’s tails or horns and ride it as long as possible. It is a disputable event because the blood sport often results in major injuries and even deaths.

The Supreme Court banned the sport in 2014 as huge concerns were raised by the activists that the Jallikattu event amounted cruelty to animals and it involves torture and unnecessary suffering upon the animals and is a severe threat to human safety. But the Tamilians believe that the ban impinged upon their cultural identity and claim that Jallikattu is a bull-taming event. Jallikattu protesters consider it as a symbol of their customs and pride.

The ban on Jallikattu created uproar across the state of Tamil Nadu and massive protests took place by various Jallikattu supporters on the Marina beach. Thousands of people gathered at the Marina beach and later violence erupted across the city of Chennai and other parts of Tamil Nadu. Various people showed their dissatisfaction with the protests regarding the ban on Jallikattu and considered the ban as an insult to their traditional custom.

The Chennai Police imposed Section 144 of Criminal Procedure Code in order to prevent an assembly of more than 10 people in Marina Beach and the Foreshore Estate area[5]. The prohibitory orders under Section 144 were issued to stop further gathering an unlawful assembly on the beach which witnessed massive agitations, demonstrations, and violence in and around the surrounding areas of beach and the Foreshore area. This order results in the prohibition of all the anti-social and anti-national attempts intended to disrupt peace and order. All the assemblies, processions, movements and meetings around the Marina Beach were prohibited after the issuance of orders under Section 144 of Crpc and infringement of the said order results in prosecution of the concerned person[6].

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Constitutional Validity of Section 144 of Crpc

The action taken under the Section 144 of Crpc is anticipatory i.e. it is being utilized in order to prevent certain actions even before they actually take place or occur. Many times the constitutional validity of the prohibitory order under Section 144 is challenged as the power conferred under this section tends to temporarily suspend the lawful rights of the people for the purpose of preserving public peace and safety. Since the propriety of the prohibitory order under Section 144 is open to challenge it cannot be said that by reason of the wide amplitude of the power which this section confers, on the Magistrates, it places unreasonable restrictions on certain fundamental rights of the citizens. The orders promulgated under section 144 should not be vague and disproportionate.

Article 19(2) and 19(3) empower the State Government or the Legislature to place reasonable restrictions on fundamental rights as contained in Articles 19(1) (a) and (b) i.e. right to freely express and to assemble peaceably without arms. This right is not absolute and can be curtailed on the basis of reasonable restrictions in the interest of public order, sovereignty, integrity, security of the state etc. public order has to be maintained in advance. Therefore it is competent for the legislature to make the law permitting an appropriate authority to take anticipatory action or place anticipatory restrictions upon particular kinds of acts in an emergency for the purpose of maintaining public order and to serve the interests of the society. Thus the anticipatory action of the kind permissible under Section 144 of Crpc is not impermissible under clauses (2) and (3) of Article 19 of the Constitution. Section 144 of Crpc when properly applied and enforced is not deemed to be unconstitutional as offending Article 19 of the Constitution because the restrictions are in the interest of public order and the general public[7].

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[1] Section 144 of Indian Penal Code

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[2] Prof. S. N. Mishra, Indian Penal Code, 330 (19th ed. 2014)

[3] Section 144 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1978

[4] Madhu Limaye v. S.D.M. Monghyr, (A.I.R. 1971 S.C. 2486)

[5] “Chennai: Section 144 imposed in Marina Beach and Foreshore Estate area till Feb 12”, Scroll.in ( March 7, 2017), https://scroll.in/latest/827984/chennai-section-144-imposed-in-marina-beach-and-foreshore-estate-area-till-february-12

[6] R.Sivaraman, “Sec.144 imposed in the Marina Beach till Feb 12”, The Hindu (Jan 29, 2017), http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/Sec.-144-imposed-in-the-Marina-till-Feb-12/article17109396.ece

[7] Madhu Limaye v. S.D.M. Monghyr, (A.I.R. 1971 S.C. 2486)