Section 144: A Sword to Prevent the Expression of Dissent

  • Anirudh Agrawal
  • June 28, 2020

Content :

Under section 144, the District Magistrate or Sub Divisional Officer has been authorized to pass orders directing individuals to take certain actions against their property or abstain from doing certain acts. Though originally the purpose behind the enactment of the legislation was to maintain law and order, over the period, it has been used to stifle any form of protest or dissent of the citizens by the government. The most common exercise nowadays which the authorities are resorting to is shutting down the internet. 
In the initial part of the article, the researcher discusses the origins of section 144 and elaborates upon how the section authorizes the magistrate to direct people from assembling at particular places. Then the author discusses the safeguards which are available under the section for any individual. Theirs exists several safeguards under the section including prior inquiry provision, wide powers with the appellate courts to not only struck down the section 144 orders but also to even go into the materials and check whether the material was sufficient, genuine and could base on material, the present decision could have been arrived at. How every effort is made to ensure that the order under the section is communicated to the relevant party. 
Then the researcher discusses the threshold which must be satisfied to successfully challenge the section 144 petition. Under the section, the most prevalent ground is an imminent threat and danger and parties need to prove an actual and genuine danger to peace instead of merely apprehension of danger.
In the next part, the constitutional validity of the provision has been discussed. The validity of the provision has been discussed with the help of relevant case laws. The case related to even before the enactment of the present Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 has been discussed to trace the history of the provision. The arguments analyzed in the judgment and the courts take on them have been discussed.’
Though the courts have upheld the vires of the provision, but even today in several cases before the court, the validity of the provision is impugned. In this section, the arguments of the opponents of the provision have been discussed. In the final part of the paper, the relationship between section 144 and Internet shutdown has been discussed and how the former is repeatedly used by the governments to stifle any form of protest. The government resort to such device even for minutest of the purpose which has invited even international condemnation. The impact of the internet suspension rules and its impact on the relevancy of the Section as a tool to impose internet shutdown has also been discussed.