Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) of 1973 authorises the Executive Magistrate of any state or territory to issue an order to prohibit the assembly of four or more people in an area. According to the law, every member of such 'unlawful assembly' can be booked for engaging in rioting.
Section 144 is imposed in urgent cases of nuisance or apprehended danger of some event that has the potential to cause trouble or damage to human life or property. Section 144 of CrPC generally prohibits public gathering.
Section 144 has been used in the past to impose restrictions as a means to prevent protests that can lead to unrest or riots. The orders to impose Section 144 have been conferred to Executive Magistrate when there is an emergency situation.
Section 144 also restricts carrying any sort of weapon in that area where it has been imposed and people can be detained for violating it. The maximum punishment for such an act is three years.
According to the order under this section, there shall be no movement of public and all educational institutions shall also remain closed and there will be a complete bar on holding any kind of public meetings or rallies during the period of operation of this order.
Moreover, obstructing law enforcement agencies from dispersing an unlawful assembly is a punishable offence. Section 144 also empowers the authorities to block the internet access.
144 CrPC bars the conduct of certain activities or actions or events which are allowed to be done in regular course. It is imposed to ensure maintenance of peace and tranquillity in an area.
Duration of Section 144 order
No order under Section 144 shall remain in force for more than two months but the state government can extent the validity for two months and maximum up to six months. It can be withdrawn at any point of time if situation becomes normal.
Why is Section 144 in news?
On September 17, 2020, restrictions under Section 144 were imposed in Mumbai by order of the Commissioner of Police, Greater Mumbai. These restrictions were imposed in view of an unrelenting surge in coronavirus cases in the city. Mumbai has been one of the most affected Indian cities in the Covid-19 pandemic, which has had the entire world in its grips since early 2020.
On March 23, the Delhi government imposed Section 144 in Delhi to stop the spread of coronavirus, which had claimed over 14,500 lives worldwide and had infected over 3,40,000 people. As the virus spread its wings in India, several states for Delhi government and imposed Section 144 to restrain local transmission of covid-19.
On February 12, Section 144 was imposed in North Goa district following intelligence inputs about possible terror threat along the western coast. North Goa District Magistrate, in a notification said it would be imposed for 60 days, from February 11 to April 10.
On February 8, internet snapped across Jammu and Kashmir and Section 144 was imposed in view of the death anniversary of Maqbool Bhat and Afzal Guru.
Difference between Section 144 and curfew
Section 144 prohibits gathering of four or more people in the concerned area, while during the curfew people are instructed to stay indoors for a particular period of time. The government puts a complete restriction on traffic as well. Markets, schools, colleges and offices remain closed under the curfew and only essential services are allowed to run on prior notice.