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Section 144 of CrPC, Purpose, Curfew and its Legal Implications

Context: The High Court questioned the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on its request to stage a protest in the national capital, despite an existing ban under Section 144 of the CrPC due to ongoing farmers’ protests.

About Section 144 of CrPC

  • What is it?: Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) 1973 allows an Executive Magistrate to issue orders to prevent the assembly of four or more people in an area.
  • Purpose:
    • Prevention: Aimed at addressing urgent cases of nuisance or anticipated dangers that may disrupt public peace or cause harm to life and property.
    • Prohibition: Primarily bans public gatherings to maintain peace and prevent potential unrest or riots.
  • Restrictions:
    • Weapon Ban: Carrying weapons in the imposed area is prohibited, with violators facing detention.
    • Movement and Assembly: Restricts public movement, closes educational institutions, and bans public meetings or rallies.
    • Internet Access: Authorities may block internet access to control the situation.
  • Legal Implications
    • Punishment: Violation of Section 144 can lead to a maximum of three years in prison.
    • Punishable: Obstructing law enforcement in dispersing an unlawful assembly is punishable.
  • Duration
    • Orders under Section 144 cannot exceed two months but can be extended by the state government for up to six months if necessary.
    • The order can be lifted earlier if normalcy is restored.

Supreme Court Judgments on Section 144

  • Babulal Parate vs State of Maharashtra: The Supreme Court declined to invalidate the law, upholding its application.
  • Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Case (1967): The Court emphasised the importance of public order for democracy, supporting the continuation of Section 144.
  • Madhu Limaye Case (1970): Highlighted that the powers granted under Section 144 are judicial in nature and subject to further judicial review, affirming the section’s validity.
  • Constitutionality and Article 19(2): The Court has consistently affirmed that Section 144’s restrictions are justified under the “reasonable restrictions” clause of fundamental rights in Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution.
  • Misuse is Not Sufficient Ground: Acknowledged the possibility of misuse of the law but stated that this is not sufficient grounds for its repeal.

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Difference Between Section 144 of CrPC and Curfew
  • Section 144: This provision limits the assembly of four or more people in a designated area.
    • It’s a preventive measure to avoid potential unrest or violence without necessitating people to stay indoors.
    • The restrictions under Section 144 are typically less severe than a curfew, allowing for some degree of movement and activity within the community, albeit with limitations on large gatherings.
  • Curfew: Imposes a more stringent restriction, requiring people to stay indoors during specified hours.
    • During a curfew, there is usually a complete halt to public movement, and most activities, including the operation of businesses, markets, schools, and offices, are suspended.
    • Essential services might be exempted, but often with restrictions and only after obtaining necessary permissions.
    • Curfews are generally imposed in more severe situations where there is an imminent threat to public order or safety.

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