"Section 144 Can't Be Used Arbitrarily": Supreme Court To Centre

"Section 144 Can't Be Used Arbitrarily": Supreme Court To Centre

Prohibitory orders under Section 144 were frequently employed last month to quell backlash over the contentious citizenship act. It was also employed in Jammu and Kashmir to stop protests against the withdrawal of Article 370

EC News Desk

New Delhi, January 10, 2020: The Supreme Court pulled up the centre today over its use of Section 144, telling the government that the colonial-era law, which prohibits large gatherings and has been frequently employed to curb protests, cannot be imposed "arbitrarily" or as a "tool to prevent grievance of democratic rights". The top court's remarks came as part of a landmark verdict on restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir that have been in place since the centre's decision to scrap Article 370 in August.

"It (referring to Section 144) can't be used as a tool to oppress difference of opinion. State authorities need to publish orders for all (instances) of Section 144 and other restrictions," a three-judge bench consisting of Justices NV Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and BR Gavai said this morning.

In a strongly-worded verdict the top court reminded the government that the Constitution protected "expression of divergent views (and) legitimate expressions of disapproval".

"Section 144 cannot be used as a tool to prevent the legitimate expression of opinion or grievance of any democratic rights. Constitution protects expression of divergent views... cannot be the basis for invocation of Section 144 unless there is sufficient material to show incitement to violence or threat to public safety," the court said.

Prohibitory orders under Section 144 have been frequently employed by centre and state governments in recent months to quell backlash over the contentious citizenship act. It was also employed in Jammu and Kashmir to stop protests against the withdrawal of Article 370.

Reminding the centre the law could not be used to break up or dissuade protests, the Supreme Court also directed that government must publish all related orders and take into concern the rights of individuals as guaranteed under the Constitution.

"Prohibitory orders under Section 144 cannot be imposed to crack down on dissent. The government should publish all orders of prohibition," the court said, adding, "While passing orders (the) magistrate has to balance interests of individual rights and concerns of state".

The court elaborated on that topic by highlighting the "fundamental rights of the public" and urged the government to use the measure "responsibly".

"...orders passed under Section 144 have direct consequences upon fundamental rights of the public. Such a power, if used in a casual and cavalier manner, would result in severe illegality. This power should be used responsibly..." the Supreme Court said.

The centre had justified restrictions imposed in Jammu and Kashmir after the provisions of Article 370 were removed and said that due to the preventive steps taken, neither a single life was lost nor a single bullet was fired.

As part of its observations the Supreme Court also hit out at the indefinite ban on internet services in Jammu and Kashmir, calling it "an abuse of power".

(Source NDTV)