Former Chief Justice of India U.U. Lalit stated that conferring drastic powers upon the executive or the police through Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) is not acceptable in a nation governed by the rule of law.
The CJI made the comment while speaking at the launch event of a report titled ‘The Use and Misuse of Section 144 CrPC’.
Key-highlights of the Report
The report states that prohibitory orders were issued over 6,100 times in the national capital in 2021.
In some cases, Section 144 was used to regulate the sale of balms or cough syrups, which are often used as drugs
The report categorises the prohibitory orders into four broad themes, including establishing CCTV surveillance and regulating businesses.
Section 144 is an emergency provision to prevent rioting, and maintain tranquillity and peace. But as per this report, the State uses it to snoop on regular life.
About Section 144 of CrPC
Section 144 of CrPC is meant for emergency situations.
It empowers a district magistrate, a sub-divisional magistrate, or any other executive magistrate empowered by the state government, to issue orders to prevent and address urgent cases of apprehended danger or nuisance.
The written order by the officer may be directed against an individual or individuals residing in a particular area, or to the public at large.
In urgent cases, the magistrate can pass the order without giving prior notice to the individual targeted in the order.
Powers under the Provision
The provision allows the magistrate to direct any person to abstain from a certain act, or to pass an order with respect to a certain property in the possession or under the management of that person.
This usually means restrictions on movement, carrying arms, and unlawful assembly. It is generally understood that an assembly of three or more people is prohibited under Section 144.
When aimed at restricting a single individual, the order is passed if the magistrate believes it is likely to prevent obstruction, annoyance or injury to any lawfully employed person, or a danger to human life, health or safety, or a disturbance of the public tranquility, or a riot, etc.
Time limit: Orders passed under Section 144 remain in force for two months, unless the state government considers it necessary to extend it. But in any case, the total period for which the order is in force cannot be more than six months.
Issues with section 144 of Crpc
The criticism is that it is too broad and the words of the section are wide enoughto give absolute power to a magistrate that may be exercised unjustifiably.
The immediate remedyagainst such an order is a revision application to the magistrate himself.
An aggrieved individual can approach the High Courtby 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.
Court’s Ruling on Section 144:
Dr Ram Manohar Lohiya case 1967, the Supreme Court held that “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’: SC said the power of a magistrate under Section 144 “is not an ordinary power flowing from administration but a power used in a judicial manner and which can stand further judicial scrutiny”.
The Supreme court in another recent judgement said that the section cannot be used to impose restrictions on citizens' fundamental right to assemble peacefully, cannot be invoked as a 'tool' to 'prevent the legitimate expression of opinion or grievance or exercise of any democratic rights'.
In 2012, the Supreme Court criticised the government for using Section 144 against a sleeping crowd in Ramlila Maidan. “Such a provision can be used only in grave circumstances for maintenance of public peace. The efficacy of the provision is to prevent some harmful occurrence immediately.