At about 6.30am this morning, New Delhi’s Raisina Hill area was “evacuated” by the police, who “made announcements about clamping Section 144 of CrPC prohibiting assembly of more than four persons in the area and herded the protesters into the buses.”
In case you weren’t sure about what exactly is in Section 144 of the The Code of Criminal Procedure, below is the text of this law. The news reports make clear that it’s not Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code that’s being invoked. That one is, well, more compact. Emphases mine.
Joining unlawful assembly armed with deadly weapon.
Whoever, being armed with any deadly weapon, or with anything which, used as a weapon of offence, 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.
Possibly the government is aware of the fact that this actually describes the police yesterday, rather than the protestors whose arsenal was made up of placards.
Section 144 of the The Code of Criminal Procedure is a little more elaborate in its wording and gives the government “power to issue order in urgent cases of nuisance or apprehended danger”. But if you’re trying to find the nut, you’ve got to go past the nutshell. So here we are. Emphases mine.
(1) In cases where, in the opinion of’ a District Magistrate, a Sub-divisional Magistrate or any other Executive Magistrate specially empowered by the State Government in this behalf, there is sufficient ground for proceeding under this section and immediate prevention or speedy remedy is desirable, such Magistrate may, by a written order stating the material fact of the case and served in the manner provided by section 134, direct any person to abstain 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, or tends to prevent, obstruction, annoyance or injury to any person lawfully employed, or danger to human life, health or safety, or a disturbance of the public tranquility, or a riot, or an affray.
(2) An order under this section may, in cases of’ emergency or in cases where the circumstances do not admit of the serving in due time of a notice upon the person against whom the order is directed, be passed ex-parte.
(3) An order under this section may be directed to a particular individual, or to persons residing in a particular place or area, or to the public generally when frequenting or visiting a particular place or area.
(4) No order under this section shall remain in force for more than two months from the making thereof:
Provided that, if the State Government considers it necessary so to do for preventing danger to human life, health or safety or for preventing a riot or any, affray, it may by notification, direct that an order made by a Magistrate under this section shall remain in force for such further period not exceeding six months from the date on which the order made by the Magistrate would have, but for such order, expired, as it may specify in the faid notification.
(5) Any Magistrate may, either on his own motion or on the application of any person aggrieved, rescind or alter any order made under this section, by himself or any Magistrate Subordinate to him or by his predecessor-in-office.
(6) The State Government may either on its own motion or on the application of any person aggrieved, rescind or alter an order made by it under the proviso to sub-section (4).
(7) Where an application under subsection (5), or sub-section (6) is received, the Magistrate, or the State Government, as the case may be shall afford to the applicant an early opportunity of appearing before him or it, either in person or by pleader and showing cause against the order, and if the Magistrate or the State Government, as the case may be, rejects the application wholly or in part he or it shall record in writing the reasons-for so doing.
It’s worth keeping in mind that yesterday, the police caused obstruction, annoyance and injury to the protestors, disturbed public tranquility and caused a riot rather than prevented it. Also, citizens expressing their support of a woman who was brutally raped is defined as an urgent case of nuisance. Now we know.